IAAF scandal might be sport's biggest

Outgoing IAAF president Lamine Diack with newly elected chief Sebastian Coe at the Beijing congress in August. The 82-year-old Senegalese, out on bail, is suspected of accepting bribes to cover up positive Russian dope tests.
Outgoing IAAF president Lamine Diack with newly elected chief Sebastian Coe at the Beijing congress in August. The 82-year-old Senegalese, out on bail, is suspected of accepting bribes to cover up positive Russian dope tests.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Sources say drug probe could net other big names beyond ex-chief and Russian athlete

LONDON • Allegations that the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) took bribes to suppress positive drug tests could be the tip of the iceberg.

As Lamine Diack spent another day on police bail in France after being questioned on corruption allegations, sources close to the story said "this will only get bigger".

It leaves Sebastian Coe, the IAAF's new president, with much to consider as he prepares to appear before the culture, media and sport select committee of Britain's House of Commons this month.

The original belief was that French police are focusing on the case of Liliya Shobukhova, a marathon runner who claimed that she paid US$450,000 (S$633,000) to Russian athletics chiefs to avoid a drug ban and run at the 2012 Olympic Games.

A German television documentary claimed last year that Valentin Balakhnichev, the IAAF treasurer at the time, was aware of the transaction. He has since resigned.

It has now been reported that Diack is suspected of pocketing about €1 million (S$1.53 million) to cover up positive Russian tests, but sources suggest that it was likely the investigation includes other names and bigger sums.

Coe, who was a vice-president to Diack, volunteered to talk to police when they visited the body's Monaco offices on Tuesday. There are no allegations against him.

He was already due to appear before the select committee, which is investigating blood doping, but Jesse Norman, the chairman, said that British MPs may have other questions.

One of them, Damian Collins, said he would ask: "What did you know and what are you going to do about it?" He added: "This is potentially the biggest scandal in world sport."

One of Britain's top coaches told Coe to "throw open the doors" to save the sport's credibility.

Toni Minichiello, who steered Jessica Ennis-Hill to Olympic gold, said he had lost all faith in the IAAF.

"Is it just Russians or are there other pots of money? Have people been protected all these years?" he asked.

"The IAAF should throw open its doors to any investigating body. Seb Coe needs to stand there and say, 'I will make all necessary changes.' I'm hoping he will take those steps, but at the moment I've not seen any. This needs to be at the top of his agenda."

Ennis-Hill, who received her Olympic heptathlon gold from Coe in 2012, is one of a string of British athletes who have lost out to alleged Russian drug cheats.

She was second at the 2011 World Athletics Championships but argues that the winner, Tatyana Chernova, was ineligible as she later had all her results from the previous two years annulled.

Minichiello said: "When all this came out, the IAAF said, 'We will get to the bottom of this and investigate.' Nothing has happened since. You put your faith in the governing body to protect athletes, but I've lost that faith now.

"I don't think Ennis will ever get the Chernova medal back. The wheels turn far, far too slowly if they turn at all. I think the IAAF is more concerned with avoiding embarrassment than getting to the root of the problem."

Diack, who was president from 1999 to August this year, was questioned on Sunday and released on £350,000 (S$750,890 bail. He was formally placed under police investigation alongside Habib Cisse, the former IAAF legal adviser.

The IAAF's former anti-doping officer, Gabriel Dolle, was also taken into custody.

The International Olympic Committee is looking into Diack's case as he is an honorary member.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'IAAF scandal might be sport's biggest'. Print Edition | Subscribe