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Kenya doping loophole closer to being closed after another star fails test

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Kenya’s first WADA-approved drug-testing laboratory will be operational early next month, anti-doping authorities said Monday as they aim to close a loophole that some fear had allowed athletes from the East African distance-running powerhouse to beat controls for years.

The lab in the capital, Nairobi, will focus on blood analyses, although it will also be able to carry out other doping tests, the Athletics Integrity Unit said.

It is the first World Anti-Doping Agency-approved facility in East Africa, and the only one in Africa after South Africa’s lab had its accreditation revoked last year.

The AIU is the independent unit set up in 2017 to prosecute doping cases in international track and field. It funded the Kenyan lab with help from athletics governing body, the IAAF.

Previously, blood samples taken from Kenya’s world-beating distance runners had to be flown to South Africa or, more recently, Europe to be tested at an approved lab within 36 hours, a challenging race-against-time that led to the regular bending of anti-doping rules, as revealed by The Associated Press in 2016.

Blood doping is especially relevant in distance running, where Kenya has been a powerhouse for decades.

The new lab should stop athletes who train in remote regions in the high-altitude west of the country from being given prior warning of out-of-competition tests by sample collectors.

Out-of-competition checks are meant to be sprung on athletes by surprise.

But the time required to reach athletes and get samples to Nairobi and out of the country to an approved testing lab within the 36-hour limit had meant it became easier for officials to give a group notice a day before to gather at a specific place to be tested together.

Experts say, though, that drug cheats could use the advance notice to dilute their blood — either by drinking copious amounts of fluid or by infusing saline — and beat the test.

Brett Clothier, head of the AIU, alluded to that on Monday.

“From now on, the analyses of blood samples will be performed locally,” he said. “This will give us more efficiency, more responsiveness and less predictability.”

The AIU’s announcement came a day after it confirmed 2017 World 800m bronze medalist Kipyegon Bett of Kenya had failed a doping test.

Bett tested positive for the blood-booster EPO and the 800m runner, world junior champion in 2016, faces a four-year ban.

The 20-year-old athlete had already been suspended for evading a doping test. He is the fourth Kenyan to face doping charges in 2018.

The 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop has been charged with using EPO, while women’s Olympic marathon winner Jemima Sumgong was banned for four years for EPO in November.

They are some of the latest cases that rebut Kenyan claims its top athletes are clean, and doping is confined to lesser-known runners.

The AIU said it collected more than 3,500 blood samples to test in 2017. It expects the new lab to handle between 800 and 1,000 a year from the East African region, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea.

The lab belongs to the Lancet healthcare group. It’s not a fully accredited WADA lab, but the world anti-doping organization allows a facility to handle tests for cost and geographic reasons as long as it meets criteria.

Kenya’s reputation has been seriously damaged by the upsurge in doping cases in recent years, which has been accompanied by multiple incidents of rule-breaking and corruption.

Kiprop revealed in May he received prior warning of his urine test. He also admitted to giving the doping control officer money for tipping him off.

Kiprop also faces a four-year ban. He was elevated to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after Rashid Ramzi was stripped for doping.

Other Kenyans currently charged with doping include two-time Olympian Lucy Wangui (morphine) and 2017 Athens Marathon winner Samuel Kalalei (EPO).

Ruth Jebet, the Kenya-born Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion and world-record holder, was also suspended this year and charged with using EPO.

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Semenya hearing ends, decision in ‘pivotal’ case late March

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Caster Semenya was given “the last word” when a week-long hearing at sport’s highest court ended Friday, and her decade-long battle with track and field’s ruling body neared a conclusion.

The two-time Olympic 800-meter champion from South Africa appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the IAAF’s proposed hormone regulations, which would require Semenya and other female athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone to lower them through medication to compete at world-class events.

The regulations would apply to events from 400 meters to one mile, the range of distances Semenya competes in.

The Swiss-based CAS said the verdict, in what it called one of the most “pivotal” cases it has heard, will be announced by March 26.

The decision, which will be made by three CAS judges, has repercussions for sport and how athletes with what the case refers to “as differences of sexual development (DSD)” are treated. Semenya is not the only female athlete with high natural levels of testosterone but has become the sometimes unwilling face of the issue.

The verdict could have an immediate impact on Semenya’s career: The world championships in Qatar, where she is due to defend her 800 title, open in September.

If the IAAF wins the case, she must start taking medication straight away or switch to sprints or long- distance events.

Semenya’s lawyers said at the outset of the hearing that the regulations discriminate against her and her “genetic gift.” The IAAF argued that regulations were needed to ensure fairness in the sport because the South African runner and other DSD athletes have testosterone levels in the male range, giving them an unfair advantage.

The case will likely hinge on whether the IAAF can prove with scientific data that testosterone gives the DSD runners a significant advantage.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe spoke at the hearing, which CAS said “was conducted in a cordial and respectful atmosphere throughout the entire week” despite a tense buildup.

Some of the sessions were held at a secret location to ensure confidentiality and it was previewed by a series of statements from Semenya’s lawyers criticizing the IAAF for allegedly breaching the confidentiality agreement over case details.

Semenya has not commented publicly since the hearing began. Her standoff with the IAAF dates back to 2009, when she won the world title as an unheralded 18-year-old but her victory was mired in scandal when it was revealed the ruling body had ordered her to undergo gender tests in the lead-up to the race.

She was barred from competition for nearly a year as the organization considered her unique case and only returned to the track when the IAAF introduced an early version of their hormone regulation rules. Semenya ran under the previous regulations but those rules were suspended in 2015 when another athlete, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, won a case at the CAS.

The IAAF has replaced its previous regulations with new ones. Female athletes with high testosterone levels would be required to take daily medication — normally a birth control pill — or have surgery to bring their hormone levels down for at least six months prior to competing in top events like the Olympics and the world championships.

The emotive issue mixes sports, gender and race and has drawn reaction from United Nations human rights experts and activists. The South African government, vocal in its support of Semenya, has alleged racism by the IAAF for focusing its hormone limits on the events that she competes in.

IOC revokes shooting event status over Pakistan visa refusal

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The International Olympic Committee has revoked the Olympic qualification status of a 25-meter shooting event in New Delhi because Indian officials refused to grant entry visas to two Pakistani athletes and an official.

The IOC said Thursday it was informed on Monday that the Indian government authorities did not grant entry visas to the Pakistani delegation for the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event at the ISSF World Cup, where two places at next year’s Tokyo Olympics were meant to be at stake.

The IOC said it only withdrew the Olympic qualification status from the competition in which the two Pakistani athletes were supposed to participate. There are 500 athletes from 61 countries who are already in India for other World Cup events.

“Since becoming aware of the issue, and in spite of intense last-minute joint efforts by the IOC, the ISSF (International Shooting Sport Federation) and the Indian NOC (National Olympic Committee), and discussions with the Indian government authorities, no solution has been found to allow the Pakistani delegation to enter India in time to compete,” the IOC said in a statement.

It did not say whether Pakistani athletes were entered in any other events at the competition.

In a statement to the Press Trust of India news agency, Rajeev Mehta, the secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association, said Friday the IOA would approach the government again about the visas.

“It is a dangerous situation for all sport in the county,” Mehta was quoted as saying. “In addition to not being able to host events in India, there may be problems for our athletes to take part in international events.”

The IOC said the situation goes against the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter to not discriminate against any athlete.

The visa refusal comes amid escalated tensions between the two countries following last week’s deadly suicide bombing in Kashmir against Indian paramilitary troops. At least 40 Indian soldiers were killed in Thursday’s attack, which New Delhi blamed on Islamabad.

Since independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which is divided between the two but claimed by each in its entirety.