April 22, 2016

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) Kenya's president signed a law Friday that criminalizes doping and threatens drug cheats with prison sentences.

In a move aimed at helping the country avoid sanctions from the World Anti-Doping Agency ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the long-awaited anti-doping bill after it was passed by lawmakers on Tuesday. It also gives Kenya's new national anti-doping agency the legal power to operate.

The new law allows for a three-year prison term and a $30,000 fine for people found guilty of doping-related offenses. An athlete could also be sent to jail for one year for failing or refusing to submit to a doping test.

Those laws are tougher than WADA was seeking. WADA is against authorities going as far as taking criminal action against athletes for doping, believing they should face sporting sanctions, such as bans.

WADA was pushing for a law that would allow Kenya's new national anti-doping agency to enforce bans and control the country's anti-doping process.

But amid a doping crisis that has undermined its reputation as the leading distance-running nation in the world, Kenya appears to have gone further.

''Let me be clear that this law is the continuation, not the end, of our efforts to stand against cheating and corruption in the sporting and athletics arena,'' Kenyatta said. ''Let it also be clear that those who show contempt for the law will be punished.''

Although WADA is against criminalizing doping for athletes, spokesman Ben Nichols said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press: ''WADA does not wish to interfere in the sovereign right of any government to make laws for its people. That is the right of the country's government, and that government alone.''

Kenyatta's signature was the last step to implementing the anti-doping legislation, one of a number of reforms Kenya needs to make to its program by a final deadline of May 2 to avoid being declared non-compliant with WADA's global code. Kenyatta personally drove the new law through parliament and guaranteed it would be approved after Kenya missed two previous deadlines because of bureaucratic delays.

''We understand from media reports that there has been some progress with Kenya's anti-doping bill,'' WADA's Nichols said, adding that the agency's independent compliance review committee will meet on May 2 to review the decision on the national anti-doping body.

WADA's compliance committee will make a recommendation to WADA's board, which will make the final decision on Kenya's compliance at its meeting on May 12. A declaration of non-compliance could lead to sterner punishment for Kenya by track and field governing body IAAF, including a possible ban for its athletes from the Rio Games.

Since the 2012 London Olympics, 40 Kenyan athletes have been banned for doping. Also, four senior track federation officials were suspended on allegations of corruption and possible cover-ups involving the anti-doping process.

''Today, I am confident that WADA will look upon the passage of our anti-doping law favorably as a sign of our unwavering commitment to meeting the highest international standards,'' Kenyatta said in a speech following his signing of the bill.

The passing of the law by parliament earlier this week was met with relief by some of Kenya's top athletes, who feared they might be thrown out of the Rio Olympics.

''That's what WADA was waiting for in Kenya. So we are safe,'' London Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge said.

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Imray reported from South Africa.

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