By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian distance-running great Haile Gebrselassie believes doping could be stamped out in his country if an athlete who failed a test for meldonium is sent to prison.
Ethiopian police are investigating Girmay Birhanu for breaching an anti-doping law after he failed a test last year and he could face three years in prison, Gebrselassie, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation (EAF) President, told Reuters.
"I cannot say this is harsh. After this, we will not have regular doping," Gebrselassie said on Wednesday.
"What we are trying to do regarding doping is we have to have zero tolerance no matter what."
Ethiopia has dominated international distance running for many years along with neighbouring Kenya, but the country's credibility was questioned in 2016 when six athletes came under investigation for doping.
The 30-year-old Birhanu was one of five Ethiopian athletes who failed tests in 2016, three of whom are now living in the United States.
Gebrselassie, a double Olympic 10,000 meters champion who retired from running in 2015, was elected EAF president in November.
He gave no indication of when Birhanu's case was expected to go to court and neither police officials, nor Birhanu, were immediately reachable for comment.
Birhanu's case may be influenced by what the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has said about meldonium, Gebrselassie added.
The drug was added to WADA's list of banned substances in January, 2016, with athletes around the world being informed of the decision in late 2015.
Yet WADA has since announced that the presence of less than one microgram of meldonium in samples from tests conducted on athletes before March 1, 2016, was acceptable.
The EAF subsequently announced that it would carry out tests on up to 200 athletes. In December, it said it would impose lifetime bans on drug cheats who are suspended for four years internationally.
Gebrselassie believes that those who facilitate doping should also face jail time.
"It is not only the athletes who should go to jail. If someone gives the doping (material), if someone is selling, if someone is bringing from one (place) to another, that is another key point," he said.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Toby Davis)