Addis Ababa – After being criticized last year for having a weak anti-doping program, Ethiopia conducted drug tests on more than 350 athletes last week, a top official said on Monday.
The vast majority of the sportsmen and women tested – 339 of them – were track and field athletes, Mekonnen Yidersal, the director general of the Ethiopian National Anti-Doping Office, told The Associated Press.
Those tests coincided with the national athletics championships in the capital Addis Ababa.
Five Paralympic athletes, 10 cyclists, and five boxers were also tested from Tuesday to Sunday, Mekonnen said. A laboratory is expected to have results from the samples in 10 days, he said.
Last year, the World Anti-Doping Agency urged Ethiopia to carry out more doping tests, with fears that the country had problems similar to that of neighbour Kenya, which has seen a spike in doping cases over the last five years.
Kenya’s anti-doping controls were found to be poor, at best, and in some cases allegedly corrupt with senior athletics officials there now under investigation for soliciting bribes from athletes to cover up their doping.
“I can generally say that it was successful,” Mekonnen said of Ethiopia’s mass testing. “We have surpassed the planned target regarding the number of athletes tested.”
The tests were carried out by Ethiopia’s anti-doping office with support from WADA and the IAAF, he said.
Athletes and support personnel guilty of involvement in doping face up to five years in jail in Ethiopia after the East African nation criminalised the offense.
Mekonnen said athletes found to be doping will be subject to criminal charges, although the law would be applied “rigorously against coaches, managers and people who bring in the banned substances into the country.”
“It’s hard for me to say if Ethiopia’s athletics currently has a doping problem or not,” Mekonnen said. “We are carrying (out) these tests to comply with IAAF requests and to see if we have the problem. We will know about it after these tests.”
Meldonium is believed to be an emerging problem in Ethiopia, the substance Maria Sharapova was banned for. Meldonium increases blood flow and is used to treat heart conditions. It was banned by WADA only at the beginning of 2016.