Kenya bars athletes like Eliud Kipchoge from global travel over coronavirus worries

The announcement from the country's athletics authority could affect several high-profile races over the next few months, most notably the London Marathon slated for April 26

Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge, the marathon world record holder, celebrates after a successful attempt to run a marathon in under two hours in Vienna, Austria, October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Kenya has announced it is barring all its athletes from travelling to international events due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus.

The announcement from the country's athletics authority could affect several high-profile races over the next few months, most notably the London Marathon slated for April 26.

That race was highly-anticipated as it was set to pit Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele, the only men to go under two hours, two minutes for the distance, against each other.

More than 126,000 people have been infected globally by the virus and more than 4,600 have died.

The East African nation, which has not had a confirmed case of the virus, boasts some of the world's top athletes, who regularly win medals at premier competitions across the globe and would have realistic ambitions of medals in both the men's and women's middle and long distance track events at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

"Following a directive from the Government of Kenya and due to the global outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, Athletics Kenya has suspended all clearance and travel to international events for athletes," Athletics Kenya said.

"In a bid to safeguard the athletes and consequently the country from the virus, we urge all athletes to cancel travel arrangements for the next one month pending further communication."

Bernard Ouma, who coaches 1,500m world champion Timothy Cheruiyot, told Reuters: "Collectively we are taking precautions just as the country is taking precautions.

"The risk of importation is what we are trying to avoid. So whatever measures are being taken by the authorities we will abide with them.

"At the end of the day it's about health  ... if by travelling you will get sick, then you avoid travelling."

Kenyan half marathon world record holder Geoffrey Kamworor voiced his own concerns when asked about the outbreak and its potential impact on the Olympics.

"It's really a bad thing and we have to bear with the situation and we give it time," he said.

A host of sporting events around the world have been cancelled or postponed as countries try to contain the spread of the virus by discouraging mass gatherings.

There are growing concerns that the outbreak may impact this summer's Tokyo Olympics, though organisers say they are pressing ahead with the schedule.

The Olympic flame for the 2020 Tokyo Games was lit in ancient Olympia on Thursday amid an unprecedented health lockdown as Greece registered its first death from coronavirus.