Sports Integrity Initiative: IAAF Update – ‘We have no knowledge of this’

It’s been a busy few months for anti-corruption in sport, with the on-going FIFA scandal erupting in May; resignations, corruption allegations and match-fixing trials plaguing the world of cricket; and now athletics has been mired in a scandal of its own. As the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prepares to deliver the findings of its independent Commission’s investigations into doping and corruption allegations in athletics, with much centring around Russian athletics, here’s an update on what’s happened so far.

The first signs…

July 2013
Things started to look a bit shifty for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) way back in July 2013, when a Mail on Sunday investigation was published. The investigation alleged that Russian athletes were ‘ordered to dope by coaches’ and that Russian officials ‘demanded cash to mask positive tests’. Just months before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics the newspaper’s investigation ‘established’ that the boss of Russia’s main anti-doping laboratory ‘was arrested and questioned on suspicion of sourcing and selling banned drugs’ and that ‘Russian athletes, coaches and support staff’ had alleged corruption at the lab.

According to the Mail on Sunday, their investigation was ‘informed by multiple sources’ and that, when they presented their findings to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), ‘they did not even bother to respond’.

Truth is stranger than fiction – the documentaries

December 2014
Fast forward 17 months to December 2014, and the German broadcaster, ARD, screened a documentary entitled ‘Top-secret doping: How Russia makes its winners’. In the documentary, one whistleblower claimed that ‘99% of all Russian athletes dope’. The documentary also claimed that Russian officials ‘systematically accepted payment from athletes to supply banned substances and cover up tests.’ It further implicated the IAAF in covering up the abuse. According to the BBC, the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) said the allegations were ‘lies’, but the IAAF said that it had ‘noted’ the ‘grave allegations’ and that an IAAF Ethics Commission investigation was already on-going.

When the second part of the documentary was aired a few days later, the IAAF once again confirmed that it would ‘investigate allegations that athletics officials colluded in assisting Russian athletes to dope’, as reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative. Ten days later, WADA announced that its former President, Dick Pound, was to head an ‘independent commission investigating allegations of systematic doping and cover-ups in Russia.’ This is the investigation whose findings will be delivered later today (Monday 9 November 2015).

December 2014 proved a busy month for the IAAF, as the Daily Telegraph independently obtained a copy of a list of competitors with ‘suspicious’ blood values, which included 225 athletes from 39 countries, with a ‘staggering’ 58 from Russia.

March 2015
In March 2015, the Sports Integrity Initiative reported on how the IAAF sent a letter to Hajo Seppelt – the journalist behind the ARD’s documentaries and a number of other doping investigations – asking him not to reveal confidential medical information about athletes which he claimed to have through possession of a ‘highly confidential document’. The IAAF said that it had asked Seppelt to hand over the list to WADA, so that it could be ‘independently reviewed’.

August 2015
By August this year, another ARD doping documentary was released, broadcast in cooperation with a Sunday Times investigation, which raised further serious questions about the extent of doping in athletics and whether officials were complicit. It also raised questions about how a large amount of private medical data ended up in the public domain.

The Sports Integrity Initiative reported that the IAAF had allegedly dropped an injunction preventing the Sunday Times from publishing its analysis of the data on Friday 1 August. The Sunday Times’ subsequent publication of its analysis revealed that a ‘third of medals won in world and Olympic long-distance athletics between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes who registered suspicious blood tests.’

In response, the IAAF once again ‘noted’ the ‘serious allegations’, labelling the leaked data as an ‘unlawfully obtained IAAF database’. The federation stated that it ‘cannot accept under any circumstances … an accusation that it has breached its primary duty to act in the best interests of the sport of Athletics.’

Meanwhile, Lord Sebastian Coe, then an IAAF Vice-President and candidate in the Presidential elections to take place later in August, tells the Associated Press in an interview that the reports alleging that the IAAF had failed to act on suspicious blood tests was a ‘declaration of war on my sport’. On election as IAAF President on 19 August, Coe says that outgoing IAAF President Liam Diack ‘will always be our spiritual president and he will certainly be my spiritual president.’

Dancing to the Jailhouse Rock – the arrests

4 November 2015
At the beginning of November and reminiscent of the swooping arrests of top FIFA officials in May, Lamine Diack is arrested by French police. Diack is alleged to have accepted money from Russian authorities in order to cover up positive doping tests. French police also take Gabriel Dollé, who resigned last year as Director of the IAAF’s Medical & Anti-Doping Department after being questioned by the IAAF Ethics Commission, into custody.

5 November 2015
The IAAF subsequently issues a press release confirming that a ‘French police investigation’ had commenced in which ‘police had visited the IAAF HQ offices’, and with which the IAAF was ‘fully cooperating’.

6 November 2015
The IAAF cancels the lavish annual International Athletics Foundation (IAF) World Athletics Gala, due to take place in Monaco on Saturday 28 November – a sign that things are about to get serious. ‘This is clearly not the time for the global athletics family to be gathering in celerbration of our sport,’ says Sebastian Coe.

It is also announced that the IAAF Council has approved a ‘significant amendment to the statutes of the IAAF Code of Ethics’, allowing the IAAF Independent Ethics Board to, at the very least, ‘acknowledge the existence of proceedings currently before it and to comment on their current status without divulging details of the case.’

Almost immediately, a statement by the Chair of the IAAF Ethics Commission, Michael Beloff QC, is released. It states that, following a complaint in relation to ‘the allegations concerning the Russian athlete Liliya Shobukhova and concealment of her doping violations’, Beloff determined that there was ‘a case fit for investigation’ and that he had appointed Sir Anthony Hooper, a recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal of England and Wales, to investigate the allegations. This followed revelations by the French newspaper L’Équipe, which reported that marathon runner Shobukhova was the victim of an alleged $450,000 extortion attempt by the ARAF in return for covering up a positive test.

Hooper had already submitted his report in August and in it recommended that disciplinary charges be brought against four persons. Lamine Diack’s son, Papa Massata Diack, a former consultant to the IAAF, is among the four men charged over Code of Ethics breaches. The other three men are Gabriel Dollé, Valentin Balakhnichev, the former President of the ARAF, and Alexei Melnikov, the Russia coach for long distance walkers and runners. The statement says that an ‘additional person’ is also being investigated.

Daley Thompson, the British former Olympic decathlon champion, tells the radio programme talkSPORT that the allegations surrounding the IAAF are “much worse” than those aimed at FIFA, and the “worst crisis” to have ever hit the sport of athletics.

Lamine Diack’s family issue a statement in response to his arrest. According to Reuters, Diack’s family state that ‘16 months of investigation by the IAAF ethics committee led by British lawyer Michael Beloff had not unveiled anything substantial so far’, adding that the ‘coming days will demonstrate the insignificance of these surreal accusations.’

The IAAF publishes a set of ‘frequently asked questions’ in an effort to be ‘as transparent as possible’. It publishes a question by the Sunday Times asking whether allegations that the reason no action was (allegedly) taken by the ARAF into biological doping passport violations was because money from athletes had passed on bribes to Lamine Diack and Gabriel Dollé. The IAAF answers: ‘We have no knowledge of this.’ The same answer is given in response to the question of whether Diack had received €1 million and Dollé €200,000.

Sebastian Coe says that he is establishing an independent integrity unit next month which will ‘include an independent tribunal to hear all integrity-related violations committed by international level athletes and their support personnel.’ ‘’We will take the hearing process out of the hands of individual member federations,’ says Coe.

7 November 2015
Professor Richard McLaren, a longstanding member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and co-author of WADA’s independent commission investigation, tells the BBC that the report is set to be ‘a real game-changer for sport’, and that the investigation had ‘found evidence to support what was said in the documentary’. According to McLaren, these IAAF revelations are ‘a whole different scale of corruption than the FIFA scandal or the IOC scandal in respect to Salt Lake City.’

France’s national financial prosecutor, Eliane Houlette, tells the Associated Press that Papa Massata Diack is thought to have played a ‘very active’ role in the alleged corruption. According to Houlette, Diack was involved in the blackmail of a Turkish athlete and the French prosecutor would have arrested him had he been in France and under their jurisdiction.

8 November 2015
According to the Mail on Sunday, WADA’s revelations could ‘merit the expulsion of nations such as Russia from athletics.’ In August, WADA stated that it cannot ‘ban’ nations that fail to comply with the WADA Code, after its President, Sir Craig Reedie, said that such a ban may be considered as a future deterrent.

The Sunday Times’ David Walsh, in an article describing the role of Russian athlete Yulia Rusanova and that of her husband, Russian Anti-Doping Association [RUSADA] employee Vitaly Stepanov, in the exposure of the ARAF’s role in the alleged doping cover up, argues that Russia must be banned from the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics. Walsh writes that WADA’s impending report ‘will be a devastating indictment of athletics and IAAF leadership.’

Sebastian Coe tells BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek that the allegations against Diack that emerged earlier this week were “the first that I had heard of them and that is almost certainly the case for everyone in the sport.” Coe admits that the IAAF probably should have done more to prevent the alleged doping cover-up, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of the IAAF expelling Russia from world athletics.

9 November 2015
WADA confirms that the first part of the Dick Pound-chaired independent investigation report into doping allegations will be delivered at 3PM CET on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland. The IAAF’s own independent Ethics Commission will conduct hearings in December against the four men charged over Ethics Code breaches.

• This article was originally published in the Sports Integrity Initiative internet journal on 9 November 2015. To access the original, please click here.

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