An “embedded” culture of corruption within track and field’s world governing body played a major role in the vast and state-sponsored doping scandal engulfing Russia’s athletics federation, according to a report released Thursday by WADA. The cooperation between the IAAF and Russia was so ingrained and high-level, former IAAF president Lamine Diack suggested to a lawyer that he could cut a deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin over the fates of Russian athletes accused of doping.
The corruption within the IAAF “cannot be blamed on a small number of miscreants,” as the IAAF had widely claimed. Instead, the report said, the corruption “was embedded in the organization.”
Specifically, the 89-page report concludes there was no way the IAAF Council — which included current IAAF President Sebastian Coe — could have been unaware of the extent of Russia’s doping program.
“There was far greater knowledge within the IAAF of problems with Russia than it has been willing to acknowledge,” the report said. “Quite obviously, there was no appetite on the part of the IAAF to challenge Russia.”
With Diack and several associates under investigation by French authorities for extorting Russian athletes in exchange for hiding their doping, the Russian track and field federation under a suspension from international competition and the culture of track and field’s leadership itself now called into question, one of the signature sports of the Summer Olympics is under siege just as attention begins to turn to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in August.
Asked at a news conference in Munich on Thursday whether fans could expect a “clean” competition in Rio, Richard W. Pound, the report’s lead author and the first president of WADA, pointedly refused to answer in the affirmative.
“I’m certain the IAAF would like to make it so, and make it evident. That’s a challenge for the IAAF,” Pound said. “. . . Culture changes will take longer than six months, but conduct changes can happen in that time.”
Among the most explosive findings from Thursday’s report:
• The Russian television rights to broadcast the 2013 World Championships, held in Moscow, suddenly increased from $6 million to $25 million around the same time the IAAF was considering the cases of nine elite Russian athletes accused of doping.
• Diack’s apparent friendship with Putin came up in conversations between Diack and his lawyer regarding those nine Russian athletes. When IAAF lawyer Huw Roberts asked how Diack intended to resolve the cases, with the 2013 worlds approaching, the ex-IAAF president explained 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 nine athletes in question, according to the report, were barred from competing in Moscow but were not handed down additional punishments. Roberts resigned in January 2014 after questions were first raised about his handling of that case.
Diack, meantime, is facing corruption and extortion charges in France alleging he pocketed more than 1 million Euros to cover up doping allegations, and last week, Diack’s son, former marketing chief Papa Massata Diack, received a lifetime ban by the IAAF for his role in the alleged extortion case. Also receiving lifetime bans were the former president of Russia’s track federation and its top distance-running and race-walking coach.
Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister, scoffed at the suggestion of Putin’s involvement in a doping cover-up, telling Russian media, “Our colleagues in the U.S. and others have almost accused [Putin] of doping. [This] is absurd.”
The latest revelations from WADA’s independent commission — coming two months after the first part of the report exposed a vast and state-sponsored doping program within Russia’s track and field program, which, the report said, “sabotaged” the 2012 London Olympics — further deepened a scandal that shows no signs of bottoming out, even as another Summer Olympics draws near.
On Tuesday, the AP, citing leaked internal documents, reported the IAAF, track’s governing body, was aware as far back as 2009 of widespread doping among Russian athletes and considered cooperating with the Russians to hide its extent from the media and public. Among the AP report’s findings: IAAF officials believed up to 42 percent of elite Russian track athletes were doping in 2012.
The IAAF has denied much of the AP’s report, saying the sheer volume of Russian doping violations — in the wake of a new, sophisticated “blood-passport” testing program that began in 2009 — necessitated the consideration of a different approach to doling out punishments, and that none of the proposed plans to hide certain violations was carried out.
This week’s bombshells come as preparations begin in earnest for the Rio Games. Following the first part of the WADA report in November, the IAAF suspended Russia’s program from international competition, an open-ended action that could jeopardize the country’s ability to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
A five-person WADA taskforce has been meeting with Russian officials in Moscow this week, part of a process designed to get the Russian program cleaned up and in compliance with WADA policy in time to be reinstated ahead of the Rio Games. The IAAF has said such reinstatement would only come if certain strict conditions were met.
WADA formed the independent commission in the wake of a December 2014 documentary by German television station ARD, “Top Secret Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners,” that exposed the scope and degree of the Russian doping program.
The ongoing doping scandal in track and field has underscored the fact performance-enhancing drugs, far from being an unsavory relic of the past, remains a scourge across the sports landscape. And how best to deal with it remains an ongoing debate. Earlier this week, Britain’s track and field federation, United Kingdom Athletics (UKA), published a “Manifesto For Clean Athletics” that proposed, among other things, effectively erasing the entire track and field record book – including all presumably untainted ones -- to usher in a new, “clean era” for the sport.
Although Thursday’s report focused almost exclusively on Russian athletics, it also contained one section about the alleged extortion of Asli Alptekin Cakir, the winner of the women’s 1,500-meter gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. The report said she was asked for 650,000 euros by Papa Massata Diack to ensure she was not stripped of her medal after a suspicious doping reading.
Richard McLaren, a member of the independent commission behind Thursday’s report, suggested more investigation is needed into other possible extortion cases, saying what has been reported thus far is only “the tip of the iceberg.”
Somewhat curiously, Pound at several points Thursday gave strong endorsements to Coe, the current IAAF president — despite the fact that Coe served as vice president under Diack at the time of the alleged improprieties and despite the report’s contention that the IAAF Council, of which Coe was a member, must have known about the extent of the Russian doping.
“My assessment of Lord Coe is that, if he knew there was corruption going on, he would have done something about it,” Pound said. “. . . There’s an enormous amount of reputational recovery that has to occur and I can’t [think of] anyone better than Lord Coe to lead that.”
Coe himself acknowledged the difficulties ahead for the IAAF.
“The public, athletes, sponsors and media will ultimately judge us on the changes that we make. . . . We can’t beg for their trust, we have to earn it, and we should not be in denial about that,” Coe told Reuters. “This is a long journey — we can make the changes, and we can make those changes quickly, but the cultural embedment will take some time.”