The UK anti-doping agency has sent investigators to Kenya to probe allegations that four British athletes were using the banned blood-booster EPO in a well-known high-altitude training region, claims that could increase the scope of the problem in the East African nation and show foreign runners are also doping there.
The allegations made in a joint sting operation by German broadcaster ARD and British newspaper The Sunday Times, and published late Saturday and early Sunday, were ''of grave concern and of significant interest,'' UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead said.
''We have opened an investigation and are taking the necessary steps to corroborate the evidence and investigate it further,'' she said in a statement. ''I can confirm that this evidence is being treated with the utmost importance and urgency, and two members of UKAD staff are currently in Kenya pursuing a number of lines of enquiry.''
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The four British athletes accused of doping with EPO in western Kenya were not named, although The Sunday Times said it knew the identity of at least one of them, and said that the athlete was already under suspicion for doping.
Kenya and its runners have been under severe scrutiny over the last four years because of a surge in doping cases. Kenya's high-altitude training camps are popular with top distance runners from across the world, raising concerns that foreign athletes could also take advantage of the area's poor doping controls.
In their report, ARD and The Sunday Times said they found empty EPO packets and used syringes in a garbage can at one of Kenya's best-known training camps, the High-Altitude Training Center in the western town of Iten at a time when a number of European athletes were in attendance.
''We strongly suspect doping in this Olympic year,'' the reporter for ARD said.
The two media outlets said three Kenyan men – two of them doctors at a hospital in Eldoret, another high-altitude running town near Iten – told them in an undercover sting that they had either provided or administered EPO to a total of four British athletes. Two of the Kenyan men implicated by the reports were arrested last week by Kenyan anti-narcotics officers and appeared in court on doping-related charges.
One of them, identified as Joseph Mwangi, said in the sting that he had supplied EPO to around 50 athletes, some of them Kenyan and some foreigners training in Kenya.