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Anti-Doping Body Says Corruption 'Embedded' In IAAF

Former Russian Athletics Federation President Valentin Balakhnichev has been implicated in a new report on graft in world athletics' governing body.
Former Russian Athletics Federation President Valentin Balakhnichev has been implicated in a new report on graft in world athletics' governing body.
By RFE/RL

Investigators from the sports world's anti-doping organization say corruption was "embedded" within the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), where some officials allegedly helped conceal Russia's sports doping program for years before that country was finally suspended last year from track-and-field competitions.

The January 14 report by an independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) describes how some officials within athletics' governing body cooperated with Russian sports authorities since at least 2009 to hide the extent of Moscow's program to administer banned performance-enhancing drugs.

The new findings follow a devastating report by the anti-doping agency on November 9 that revealed systematic, state-sponsored doping of track-and-field athletes in Russia and led to the IAAF suspending the Russian athletics federation from the sport that same month.

The corruption in the IAAF "emanated from the top" of the organization and the IAAF "showed no genuine appetite" to pursue suspicious test results, Dick Pound, a co-author of the reports and former head of the anti-doping agency, told reporters in Munich on January 14.

The latest, 89-page report urges the IAAF to undertake reforms to ensure corruption does not go unchecked in the future.

The report says the alleged corruption included former IAAF President Lamine Diack appointing his personal lawyer, Habib Cisse, to directly oversee likely doping cases involving Russian athletes. The investigators say the goal was to extort money from Russian athletes in exchange for manipulating or obstructing blood-test findings that could have disqualified abusers from competition, and that money was extorted from at least one athlete.

The group allegedly collaborated in its operations with Valentin Balakhnichev, the Russian athletics president who was banned for life from the sport last week.

Balakhnichev, who stepped down in February 2015 following doping scandals, had been accused of extorting money from Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova and involvement in attempts to cover up Russian doping.

He has responded to the WADA commission's report by saying it offers "no proof" that he committed any wrongdoing, only conjecture.

The investigation into corruption at the IAAF also details a relationship between Diack and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The report says that ahead of the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, when cases against nine Russian athletes were pending, Diack told a lawyer that he was in a "difficult position that could only be resolved by President Putin of Russia with whom he had struck up a friendship."

The report says that eventually none of the nine athletes competed but none had their disciplinary cases followed up. The nine athletes, four of whom are Olympic gold-medal winners, all eventually received doping bans, though some were not banned until as late as January 2015.

Athletes' Lives 'In Danger'

The new report and other recent revelations indicate that the world athletics governing body had evidence as early as 2009 that doping in Russia was so heavy and widespread that some IAAF officials feared athletes could die from the abuses.

The AP news agency reported on January 12 that an internal memo by Pierre Weiss, the IAAF general secretary from 2006 to 2011, warned that tests at the 2009 world championships, in which Russia won 13 medals, "strongly suggest a systematic abuse of blood doping or EPO-related products."

The hormone erythropoietin, widely known as EPO, which boosts levels of oxygen-carrying red blood cells to artificially improve performance, can increase the risk of clots, strokes, and heart attacks.

"Not only are these athletes cheating their fellow competitors, but at these levels [they] are putting their health and even their own lives in very serious danger," Weiss wrote in October 2009 to Balakhnichev.

Nevertheless, the IAAF took a soft approach with Russia. AP reported that internal IAAF papers before the 2012 London Olympics proposed hiding doping sanctions for less well-known Russian athletes from public view. However, the internal papers said the same approach couldn't be used for Russia's best athletes because that would allow them to keep "11 world titles and numerous European titles acquired under the influence of doping."

The IAAF has confirmed the authenticity of the documents but said the proposed hush-up of Russian bans was never carried out.

French authorities last year placed Diack under formal investigation on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. Diack, who resigned in August, is charged with taking more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in bribes to cover up doping cases involving Russian athletes.

With reporting by Reuters TV, AP and AFP
 

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