Kenya has until the end of Thursday to prove to the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) it is tackling cheating in athletics, the BBC has learned.
It comes after a spate of positive drugs tests among the country’s athletes and fresh allegations of corruption.
It is thought unlikely Kenya will be able to provide the assurances Wada is seeking and the country could be placed on a ‘watch-list’ of nations at risk of being in breach of the agency’s code.
The East African country, whose athletes are dominant in distance running, would then be given two months to bring in new legislation and funding, or automatically be declared non-compliant with Wada.
That could mean a possible ban from the Olympics, which take place later this year in Brazil, and other major events.
|Kenya’s banned athletes|
|As of January 2016, 18 Kenyan athletes were suspended for doping||The best known athlete suspended is Boston and Chicago Marathon winner Rita Jeptoo|
|The 18 athletes are serving bans totalling 55 years||Lilian Moraa Mariita was given the longest ban of any Kenyan athlete – eight years for taking steroids|
Russian athletics is already banned from international competition after allegations of state-sponsored doping – and must prove it is Wada-compliant before sanctions are lifted.
“The biggest threat is the declaration of non-compliance and the possible consequences of that,” said Christine Wambui Mugera, head of the regional anti-doping organisation in East Africa.
“The International Olympic Committee and other major event organisers, international federations, have the capacity to refuse entry for athletes from a country that has been declared non-compliant.
“But we have to wait to see how this plays out. The Kenyan government is working very hard to beat the timelines of Wada.”
The Kenyan government told the BBC it was taking the threat of doping “very seriously” and a newly established national anti-doping agency (Nada) would soon be operational.
Out of patience
For several months, Wada has been trying to persuade Kenya to set up an effective national agency so more drug tests can be conducted but progress has been slow.
Legislation has yet to be passed by the Kenyan parliament and proposed annual funding of 500m Kenyan shillings (£3.5m) is still to be released for the fledgling Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya (Adak).
It now appears Wada may have run out of patience.
A taskforce met with Kenyan officials in Nairobi last week and asked for certain assurances by Thursday.
Kenya is now on the brink of being referred to Wada’s compliance review committee.
“A fully functional Nada is… a vital step for a country of Kenya’s sporting stature to take if it is to effectively protect clean athletes,” said David Howman, Wada’s director general.
He said it must be established “at the earliest opportunity”.
‘Time is running out’
Last year, Russia was banned by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) for state-sponsored doping.
“Time is running out, but we are moving,” said Kip Keino, head of Kenya’s Olympic Committee.
“There is a change in this country. The government is committed. We saw what happened in other countries like Russia and we don’t want that.”
The two-time Olympic gold medallist said a ban would be “a grave loss” and insisted Kenya “wants to clean its house”.
Kenya topped the medal table at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing with seven gold medals, but it is mired in doping and bribery allegations.
Since 2011, more than 40 of its athletes have failed drugs tests.
Three senior officials at governing body Kenya Athletics have been suspended following accusations they were involved in corruption linked to Doha’s successful bid for the 2019 World Championships.
Both officials, and the Qatar campaign team, deny any wrongdoing.
Secretly filmed footage
This week, the IAAF expanded an ongoing investigation after fresh allegations from two suspended athletes that the chief executive of Kenya Athletics asked for money in exchange for more lenient punishments.
Isaac Mwangi has denied any wrongdoing, but Wada says it is “most disturbed” by the claims.
The BBC has obtained previously unseen, secretly filmed footage of a Kenyan athlete receiving an injection from an unnamed doctor.
The substance cannot be verified but the athlete, who did not want to be identified, said it was a banned substance and that doping was common.
Another athlete claimed the governing body had given him a two-year suspension because he was unable to pay it 500,000 Kenyan shillings (£3,350) to cover up a failed drugs test.
Kenya Athletics said it could not comment on the claims because of ongoing investigations but asked anyone with evidence to come forward.
With no operational Nado of its own, testing in Kenya is conducted by the east Africa regional anti-doping organisation on Wada’s behalf.
But, with limited resources, it was able to carry out just 40 drugs tests in the country in 2015.
There is no Wada-accredited laboratory in Kenya and the regional agency does not have the facilities to carry out blood tests.
All urine samples have to be tested in South Africa.
‘We are very serious’
Over the past two years, the IAAF has conducted 112 blood tests of Kenyan athletes in the country.
A total of 54 athletes have been tested but the samples have to be taken back to Europe.
The world governing body is also trying to raise funding for an approved laboratory to be established in Nairobi.
This week, senior Kenyan sports officials held last-ditch talks and agreed draft legislation that would enable Adak to become operational.
“We are very serious,” said cabinet secretary Hassan Wario. “The cases we’ve had are individuals. We have clamped down. We can’t compare to Russia at all.
“We haven’t reached that because the government knows the importance of athletics to this nation. It’s our number one brand and we can’t spoil that.”
Wario insisted the country’s president was behind plans to clean up the sport, adding: “The athletes you see from now on will be clean.”
In a country where resources are limited, the temptation to take short cuts is obvious and the cost of educating and testing athletes a major challenge.
But, at a time when sporting integrity is under scrutiny like never before, Kenya is in a race against time to prove it wins clean.