IAAF bans four senior officials over alleged doping cover-ups

• Life bans for Papa Massata Diack, Valentin Balakhnichev and Alexei Melnikov
• Former IAAF anti-doping director Gabriel Dollé given five-year ban

The son of the former president of the IAAF, the head of the All-Russia Athletic Federation and the team’s senior coach have been banned from athletics for life for inflicting “unprecedented damage” on the sport following a 20-month investigation into corruption, blackmail and extortion at the highest levels.

The independent ethics commission, chaired by Michael Beloff QC, also banned Gabriel Dollé, the former head of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ anti-doping unit, for five years in a damning 170-page report that will heap fresh pressure on the IAAF president, Sebastian Coe, and other senior executives.

Banned for life were the former IAAF marketing consultant Papa Massata Diack, the son of the former longstanding president Lamine; the former Russia athletic federation head and IAAF treasurer, Valentin Balakhnichev, and Alexei Melnikov, the former head coach of Russia’s race-walking and long-distance running programmes.

The IAAF immediately said it was angered by the levels of corruption shown to be at the heart of the regime and Lord Coe insisted the life bans “could not send a stronger message that those who attempt to corrupt or subvert the sport of athletics will be brought to justice”.

However, before the second part of Dick Pound’s independent report into state-sponsored doping in Russia and the associated cover-up at the IAAF under Lamine Diack’s regime – due to be published next week – and in light of the French police investigation into the affair, the verdict will only add to the weight of scrutiny on Coe.

The former London 2012 chairman was an IAAF vice-president throughout the period covered by the report. “Coe and [Sergey] Bubka were there,” Pound told the Times on Thursday. “It’s easy enough if you want to get a governance review. They had a [19th-century] constitution in a 21st-century organisation. They had an opportunity a long time ago to address issues of governance.”

The report shows that Huw Roberts, the IAAF senior counsel who is helping to oversee a review of its governance, threatened to resign three times over the issue of Russian athletes with suspect blood values not being sanctioned since he learned of the problem in late 2012. After repeatedly confronting the then IAAF president, Lamine Diack, Roberts tendered his resignation at the end of 2013 and eventually resigned in April 2014 before returning under Coe.

Thomas Capdevielle, who at the time was the senior anti-doping official and is now in charge of its anti-doping efforts, was told by Dollé in November 2011 that Habib Cissé, Lamine Diack’s legal adviser, would now oversee the cases involving Russian blood passports.

Capdevielle said in his evidence that it was “unusual and inappropriate” for Cissé to handle the cases and was shocked in 2012 when he saw Liliya Shobukhova, the Russian marathon runner at the heart of the case, competing at the London Olympics when she should have been banned according to her blood profile.

An IAAF spokesperson said Roberts did not find out about the allegation against Shobukhova – which at the time did not implicate Lamine Diack – until February 2014, while he was serving his notice, and promptly referred it to the IAAF ethics board. After Roberts’ departure, following a final ultimatum by Capdevielle to Lamine Diack, the other cases were resolved.

Dollé, who was said to have retired because of old age when the Guardian revealed he had left the IAAF after being interviewed by the ethics committee in December 2014, was banned only for five years because “his sins were those of omission, not commission,” the panel said.

“The head of a national federation, the senior coach of a major national team and a marketing consultant for the IAAF conspired together (and, it may yet be proven with others, too) to conceal for more than three years anti-doping violations by an athlete at what appeared to be the highest pinnacle of her sport,” read the report.

“All three compounded the vice of what they did by conspiring to extort what were in substance bribes from Liliya Shobukhova by acts of blackmail. They acted dishonestly and corruptly and did unprecedented damage to the sport of track and field, which, by their actions, they have brought into serious disrepute.”

The sanctions centred on the case of Russian marathon runner Shobukhova, who was allegedly extorted out of hundreds of thousands of euros to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 London Olympics.

She was asked to pay €450,000 in three tranches in order to guarantee her participation in the Games, which she saw as the pinnacle of her athletics career. Shobukhova ran in London and subsequently in the Chicago Marathon because the management of her blood passport case had been slowed down.

The investigation began in April 2014 following a complaint by Sean Wallace-Jones, senior manager of road running at the IAAF, after he was approached by the Russian sports agent Andrey Baranov.

The claims became public in December of that year when the German broadcaster ARD alleged that Shobukhova paid the €450,000 to Russian officials, who threatened her with a doping ban before the London Games.

When Shobukhova was initially banned for two years in 2014, her husband received a €300,000 refund payment linked to Balakhnichev and channelled through a company called Black Tidings that was linked to Papa Massata Diack.

When the allegations became public as a result of Hajo Seppelt’s ARD documentary and reports in L’Equipe that elaborated on the role of Black Tidings, Balakhnichev and Papa Massata Diack agreed to temporarily stand down from their roles. However, both were present in Beijing last summer when Coe defeated Sergey Bubka to become president of the crisis-hit IAAF.

In addition to the Russian crisis, the IAAF has also been hit by claims that it failed to follow up on hundreds of suspicious blood tests from 2011 onwards and Coe has become embroiled in a damaging row over his links to Nike.

Investigations by the ethics board against a fifth person, believed to be Diack’s legal adviser Cissé, are ongoing.

The ethics commission verdicts are separate from the criminal investigation in France into former IAAF officials. Lamine Diack was taken into custody by French authorities in November on corruption and money-laundering charges, suspected of taking more than €1m to blackmail athletes and cover up positive tests.

Dollé and Cissé were also detained and charged with corruption in France. Lamine Diack is on bail and the French prosecutor said Papa Massata Diack, believed to be in Senegal, would be arrested if he set foot in France.

In a statement, the IAAF said it was angered the officials sanctioned by the ethics panel “conspired to extort what were in substance bribes from the athlete by acts of blackmail”.

It said: “The IAAF has already introduced corrective measures to make sure this sort of interference can’t happen again,” adding that the four banned officials are “no longer associated with the IAAF in any capacity”.

Papa Massata Diack
Papa Massata Diack worked as a consultant for the IAAF. Photograph: Xibaaru Senegal

Shobukhova, who is praised in the report for blowing the whistle, was eventually banned for 38 months but that was reduced by seven months in recognition of the substantial assistance she provided to Wada.

A crucial piece of evidence in the report arises from a meeting in September 2014 between a Wada delegation and the deputy Russian sports minister in which he claimed Balakhnichev told him that the Russian federation had been “blackmailed” by the IAAF since 2011.

He said that in return for cash payments no follow-up was made on six athletes with suspicious profiles, including Shobukhova, and that the system was “in place not only in Russia but, potentially, in other countries such as Morocco and Turkey”. Balakhnichev denied that he gave any such information to the deputy Russian sports minister.

Next week, a delegation of IAAF inspectors will head for Russia in advance of a decision in March over whether to readmit the country to international competition before the Rio Olympics.


Owen Gibson

The GuardianTramp

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