Ethiopia’s Anti-Doping Office confirmed that the pharmacy was offering the blood-boosting substance EPO after a preliminary investigation.
The store was shut down for three months pending a full probe, the office said, and the head of the pharmacy had his pharmaceutical license revoked for six months.
The preliminary investigation, carried out by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Sport, came in response to an undercover report by British newspaper The Guardian and German broadcaster ARD. They said their journalists found EPO was easily available at the pharmacy, which was offering the substance while the national athletics championships took place across the road at the Ethiopian National Stadium in May.
“Based on the media report, the Ministry conducted an investigation and has found out that the banned substance was found inside the pharmacy,” the anti-doping office said.
Although authorities said they discovered athletes had acquired EPO from the pharmacy, they didn’t name any of them. There were no positive doping tests reported from the national championships.
The news puts Ethiopia in the anti-doping spotlight once again after it was ordered by the IAAF and World Anti-Doping Agency to carry out more doping tests on its top athletes last year.
There are fears that banned substances are easily available in Ethiopia, just like East African neighbor Kenya, which has been hit by a big spike in doping over the last five years. That, coupled with weak anti-doping controls from authorities, has seriously undermined the distance-running success of the two countries.
The Ethiopian Athletics Federation initially dismissed the allegations by The Guardian and ARD as “vague and unsubstantiated.”
Ethiopian Anti-Doping Office director Mekonnen Yidersal told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the shutting of the store for three months was just a “preliminary” measure, and said other stores were under suspicion.
“More serious measures against this specific business and others found in the same act will be taken,” he said. “We are carrying out a thorough investigation to this effect.”
Ethiopian law allows criminal trials and jail sentences against people, including athletes guilty of breaching anti-doping rules.