RIO DE JANEIRO —
Once again, questions are swirling about Kenyan runners and doping, this time at the biggest event of all: the Olympics.
Kenya said Sunday it would send its track and field manager home from the Rio de Janeiro Games on the first available flight and show “no mercy” following newspaper allegations that he told undercover reporters posing as coaches that he could protect doping athletes from drug tests in exchange for a pay-off.
The Kenyan government's secretary for sports, Hassan Wario, said Michael Rotich would face a police investigation.
“He must go home now. We will have no mercy on anyone who is suspected of doping,” Wario said.
In a separate statement, however, Wario also said the allegations were “ill-timed” and that their “veracity is dubious.”
The Sunday Times newspaper in London said Rotich was secretly filmed offering to protect cheating athletes from drug-testing authorities. It said he offered to provide advance warning of doping tests in return for a 10,000 pound ($13,000) bribe during an undercover investigation by the newspaper.
International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said Kenya feels that Rotich's continued presence at the games would be “distracting.”
“They are clearly very serious allegations,” he said. The IOC would like “to see the actual evidence, evidence either of malpractice or if actually this person could actually deliver what he was claiming he could deliver.”
Athletes aren't meant to be tipped-off in advance of tests, to ensure that they don't try to avoid them or manipulate their samples to appear clean. Rotich, a track and field official in Kenya's Rift Valley region that produces the bulk of the nation's long-distance runners, isn't meant to be in the loop about who will be tested and when. However, the Sunday Times quoted Rotich as telling undercover reporters that he had “ways and means” of finding out.
The Associated Press reached Rotich via WhatsApp on Sunday.
“I am not able to talk to you right now,” he messaged.
He said he would do so later but then stopped responding to follow-up questions.
The World Anti-Doping Agency urged Kenyan anti-doping authorities to investigate the allegations. Kenya, a distance-running power, has 47 athletes entered in track and field.
Adams said they've probably been tested more in the past two years, with 848 tests by track's governing body, more than any other team.
“I don't think there can have been a stronger testing program of athletes,” he said.