Life bans for three corrupt athletics officials

Former Russian athletics supremo Valentin Balakhnichev has been banned from the sport for life. Picture: Getty
Former Russian athletics supremo Valentin Balakhnichev has been banned from the sport for life. Picture: Getty
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The full scale of corruption involving senior IAAF officials has been laid bare after three of athletics’ leading figures were handed lifetime bans for blackmail and covering up positive drugs tests.

The trio were Papa Massata Diack, the son of the then IAAF president Lamine Diack and a marketing consultant for the organisation, former Russian athletics federation (ARAF) president and IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev, and Alexei Melnikov, a senior ARAF coach.

Gabriel Dolle, who was the IAAF’s anti-doping director, has been given a five-year ban for his part in the doping scandal.

The findings by the IAAF’s ethics commission make disturbing reading, with the trio found to have blackmailed Russian runner Liliya Shobukhova, London marathon winner in 2010, and made her pay a bribe for a positive drugs test to be covered up.

Lamine Diack, who was succeeded as president by Lord Coe in August, is himself under investigation by French police on suspicion of taking more than €1million (£746,000) to cover up positive tests. The report says Diack senior and his legal adviser Habib Cisse are also being investigated by the ethics commission. The ethics commission’s findings state: “The head of a national federation, the senior coach of a major national team and a marketing consultant for the IAAF conspired together (and, it may yet be proven with others too) to conceal for more than three years’ anti-doping violations by an athlete at what appeared to be the highest pinnacle of her sport.

“All three compounded the vice of what they did by conspiring to extort what were in substance bribes from Liliya Shobukhova by acts of blackmail. They acted dishonestly and corruptly and did unprecedented damage to the sport of track and field which, by their actions, they have brought into serious disrepute.”

The commission’s report also refers to allegations from Russia’s deputy sports minister Yuri Nagorny that “at least” five other Russian athletes were also involved.

The report states that, according to Nagorny, “a system was put in place at the IAAF level under which athletes with an abnormal blood passport profile would be allowed to keep competing at high level in exchange of cash payments made to the IAAF”. He also alleged that Turkey and Morocco may have been involved in similar schemes.

The IAAF said it was “angered” that its former officials had blackmailed Shobukhova and that they were no longer involved with the organisation.

Coe said: “The life bans announced today could not send a stronger message that those who attempt to corrupt or subvert the sport of athletics will be brought to justice.”

The findings also show that the IAAF’s legal counsel Huw Roberts threatened to resign twice in 2013 after learning from IAAF senior anti-doping manager Thomas Capdevielle that there were six outstanding cases of Russian athletes who had failed drugs tests but no action had been taken against them.

Roberts eventually did resign in April 2014.

In his evidence to the commission, Roberts said Lamine Diack had confirmed “there was an agreement not to proceed with six Russian ABP [athlete biological passport] cases”.

Roberts said Diack had told him in 2013 “there was a concern in the short term about how the cases might have a negative impact upon the World Championships which were due to be held in Moscow that summer”.

In December, Nick Davies, Coe’s right-hand man at the IAAF, announced he would step down as the director of the president’s office while the ethics commission investigates allegations of unethical behaviour against him.

French newspaper Le Monde obtained a copy of an email sent by Davies to Papa Massata Diack in which he appears to seek to delay the identification of Russian drug cheats in the run-up to the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

In the email Davies appears to look to minimise the impact of naming Russian athletics who had failed drug tests.