By Isaac Omulo
ELDORET, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan athletes on Monday backed a plan for a team of six internationally accredited doctors to take care of the country's top-level runners and be responsible for examining samples in an effort to end a series of doping scandals.
The doping cases threatened to derail Kenya's participation in last year's Rio Olympics, but its athletes were eventually allowed to compete and brought home a haul of long-distance running medals.
"This is a good step and a major development for our country. I am happy with it, although authorities still need to make athletes aware of the dangers of doping," Olympic marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge, 34, told Reuters.
Athletics Kenya, the governing body for track and field in the East African country, says elite athletes should only use the six doctors vetted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) if they want to compete.
"You have to go through this network, inside or outside the country. They will be writing monthly reports to the IAAF," said Athletics Kenya Chairman Jackson Tuwei.
Tuwei said 49 Kenyan athletes had violated doping rules in the past five years. Kenya is still on the World Anti-Doping Agency's watch list.
"Athletes who won’t conform (to the plan) won’t be allowed to compete," he told around 100 top athletes at a meeting in Eldoret, 350 kilometers (217 miles) northwest of the capital Nairobi.
Olympic champion and London marathon winner Jemima Sumgong said the plan would help honest athletes.
"It will make it easier and faster to do a medical, now that there are six doctors whose contacts have been given to us," she said. "This is a good start to eliminate doping."
The IAAF said the initiative was not intended to vet athletes, but to provide good quality medical support.
"The network comes as part of the preventive measures intended to address the proliferation of rogue doctors, limit poor medical practice, and address the supply of prohibited substances," Chris Turner, a spokesman for IAAF, told Reuters.
(Editing by Katharine Houreld and Richard Lough)