Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: Track and field bribery scandal taints all of sports


Ben Johnson and Marion Jones shamed their sport as cheaters greedy for medals. Now Lamine Diack has dragged track and field back into the muck because he, too, was greedy for gold.

Corruption within the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, spread like a virus from its leader, Diack, who ran the federation much like Sepp Blatter ran soccer’s FIFA. Both kingpins used sport to enrich themselves through crooked deals, illicit favors and elaborate cover-ups.

“Here it started with the president of the organization,” stated an investigative report on the International Association of Athletics Federations by the World Anti-Doping Agency released Thursday. “Corruption was imbedded in the organization. It cannot be ignored or dismissed as attributable to the odd renegade acting on his own.”

Diack formed an “informal illegitimate governance structure” with his two sons, and the IAAF treasurer, legal counsel and medical director.

The extortion of two athletes to hide their positive doping tests was just “the tip of the iceberg” of blackmail schemes, the report said. Bribes were probably paid in the awarding of world championships from 2009 up to Doha in 2019 as well as with marketing and TV rights.

Diack told a lawyer — with a confident wink — that he would talk with his pal Russian president Vladimir Putin to ensure that nine Russian athletes caught doping would not compete at the 2013 world championships in Moscow. In conjunction with that same event, a Russian bank’s sponsorship fee jumped from $6 million to $25 million overnight following an IAAF meeting.

“We are a failed organization,” Sebastian Coe said Thursday. Lord Coe, former Olympic hero and chief of the 2012 London Games, succeeded Diack as president and has vowed to clean up the IAAF. But Coe, who served on the IAAF council, faced uncomfortable questions about his supposed lack of knowledge of Diack’s dealings.

The council “could not have been unaware” of the conspiracy, the WADA report said. Yet Dick Pound, WADA founder and chair of the investigative committee, said Coe was the right man to lead the IAAF back into the light.

“I’d say he hadn’t the slightest idea of the extent,” Pound said when asked if Coe’s denials were sincere. “I’d say he didn’t lie.”

The IAAF scandal doesn’t involve as many people or as much money as FIFA’s scandal, but the IAAF’s hidden doping violations meant competition on the field of play was compromised.

“At FIFA — can they put that Humpty Dumpty back together again? I don’t know,” Pound said. “What troubles this commission is this corruption actually affects competition. It’s not just people sitting at a table passing money around.”

Pick any major sporting event — World Cups, world championships, the Olympics — and wonder how much money was paid under the table by the host.

Graft is the only explanation for the awarding of the 2014 Winter Olympics to a palm-tree-lined Black Sea resort where a railroad had to be gashed through the countryside to the mountains, or for the choice of tiny desert kingdom Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. The Olympics have become so unpalatable that many cities gave up bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, which wound up almost by default in Beijing, which has more smog than snow.

WADA’s first report in November described systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia, including the infiltration of testing labs by police agents posing as technicians and the blackmailing of $450,000 from marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova to squelch positive results. Russian track and field athletes are in jeopardy of missing the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics because they have been suspended from global competition until the Russian federation proves it is clean.

Thursday’s second report focused on Diack’s reign. He is under arrest in France for corruption and money laundering. France has issued a warrant for Diack’s son Papa Massata Diack, who is laying low in his native Senegal. Both investigations were spurred by programs and articles by the German network ARD and London’s Sunday Times entitled “Top Secret.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department has rounded up the 21st of 41 defendants in its $200 million corruption case against FIFA. Alfredo Hawit of Honduras, former president of CONCACAF and FIFA vice president, is accused of wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering conspiracy. He was extradited from Switzerland to face charges of accepting and trying to conceal bribes.

Being a sports fan these days means being cynical about the cost of that ticket — and familiar with the operation of a criminal enterprise. Follow the money trail and it leads to the sports dons at the very top.