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Russia and Kenya, two of the most troubled counties on the international doping front, received encouraging news from track and field's ruling body on Wednesday, though any possible reprieve for Russia was tempered by the sport's intent to keep the country's athletes out of international meets until the war in Ukraine is over.
Kenya came into this week's World Athletics meetings in Rome under scrutiny due to a protracted doping crisis that has landed more than four dozen athletes on suspension. But World Athletics President Seb Coe said reports about a possible full-scale ban for the country were misguided, and that increased funding and vigilance from the Kenyan government persuaded authorities to stop short of the most radical sanctions.
Russia, meanwhile, received an encouraging report from the task force monitoring the country's road back to compliance in the wake of a doping scandal that stretches back to before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Task force chair Rune Andersen said that if progress continues, the task force could recommend reinstatement of Russia's athletics federation next March.
That would not, however, automatically open the door for Russians to compete at events such as next year's world championships or the 2024 Paris Olympics.
While much of the Olympic world has been seeking a way to bring that country's athletes back into the fold, Coe has been less willing. He stuck with the long-held policy of the Russian ban because of the war being valid "until further notice." When asked what it would take to lift it, he responded: "I think it's fairly simple. Get out of Ukraine."
Moments later, Coe presented the WA President's Award to Ukraine's athletics association.
Yevhen Pronin, the acting president of the federation, said the country is setting up training camps across the globe to prepare for 2023, "but about 90% of our athletes are still in Ukraine because it's difficult to get a permit to cross the border for boys, and for girls, they do not want to leave their family in Ukraine."
In discussing Kenya, Coe referenced a commitment from the Kenyan government to add $25 million over five years to help fund increased testing and investigations for a country that has won the second-most medals (66), behind the U.S., in Olympic track since 2000 but has long had difficulty policing its athletes.
Kenya has been named a "highest risk" country for doping, and its athletes are subject to increased testing in the 10 months leading up to a major event to be eligible.
"I know the Kenyan government feels this has been a disfiguring period in what should have been a Herculean period for Kenyan athletics," Coe said. "But I'm really delighted, because actually, all the stakeholders that matter, both domestically and internationally, are now aligned in coming together to really do everything we can to resolve this situation."
By stopping short of a full ban of the country, World Athletics would allow athletes such as world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge to go for an unprecedented third straight Olympic marathon title in Paris in 2024. Kipchoge has never been charged with doping.
Others, including 2021 Boston Marathon winner Diana Kipyokei, have been suspended. In announcing Kipyokei's suspension, the Athletics Integrity Unit, which is in charge of doping cases in track, said Kipyokei's was among a growing list of cases involving the performance enhancer triamcinolone acetonide.
That trend, however, does not appear to be playing out the way Russia's doping scandal did; in that case, the government was found to have designed a program to dope athletes and ensure they got away with it.
World Athletics levied the harshest sanctions of any sport — the suspension of Russia's track federation (RusAF) and the strict limitation of Russian athletes who can compete at major events. Even with the possibility of those sanctions expiring, the Russians' swift return to the track is not guaranteed.
"RusAF's progress on its reinstatement plan will have no bearing on any council decision on RusAF's status arising from the war in Ukraine," Coe said.