By Mitch Phillips
Two top Russian athletics officials and the son of former world governing body President Lamine Diack were banned from the sport for life on Thursday for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test and blackmailing her over it.
The bans follow last year’s World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report that found a state-sponsored culture of doping in Russia and prompted the country’s suspension from the sport.
The report shook world athletics and raised doubts over Russia’s participation in this year’s Olympics Games.
Valentin Balakhnichev, the former head of the Russian athletics federation, the country’s former head distance coach Aleksey Melnikov, and Papa Massata Diack, a former marketing consultant to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) were all handed life bans by the IAAF Ethics Commission.
“We are angered by the betrayal of our sport by these individuals,” European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen said in a statement, demanding Balakhnichev be stripped of his Honorary Council member status with the organisation.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, however, accused the IAAF of trying to divert attention away from publication next week of the second part of WADA’s investigation which is expected to criticise the world governing body.
“They are correcting their own image,” he told Russia’s R-Sport agency.
The IAAF‘s former doping chief Gabrielle Dolle was also banned for five years after all four men were found to have been involved in taking payment for covering up positive drugs tests or turning a blind eye to the activities.
The IAAF scandal, which officials accept could extend to other countries, coincides with a corruption scandal shaking world soccer governing body FIFA that has resulted in bans and arrests around the world.
Thursday’s sanctions related primarily to the case of Russian former London marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova, who paid $600,000 to have positive dope tests covered up.
She was subsequently allowed to compete at the 2012 Olympics and the lucrative Chicago marathon but then gave evidence on the matter to WADA.
“The quality of the breaches determined as proven by the Panel need no hyperbolic exaggeration,” the report said.
Three senior IAAF officials had, it said, conspired to conceal for more than three years anti-doping violations by an athlete at what appeared to be the pinnacle of her sport.
SINS OF OMISSION
“The Panel considers in the light of its findings that VB (Balakhnichev), AM (Melnikov) and PMD (Diack) should be banned for life from any further involvement in any way in the sport of track and field.
It said that in Dolle’s case “his sins were those of omission, rather than commission”. Balakhnichev and Diack were also fined 25,000 dollars and Melnikov 15,000.
The R-Sport agency said Balakhnichev had described the ban as “politicised” and that he intended to appeal; but sports minister Mutko said there was no point in appealing as the ban “had been expected”.
“There are no facts, but they make it (look) as if Balakhnichev is the author of the whole system of corruption in world athletics. I’m not surprised by that.”
The Monaco-based IAAF, reeling from a succession of doping and graft scandals, said it was “angered to see that individuals have in the panel’s finding ‘conspired to extort what were in substance bribes from the athletes by acts of blackmail’.”
“The IAAF has already introduced corrective measures to make sure this sort of interference can’t happen again.”
Sebastian Coe, who succeeded Lamine Diack — who is also under investigation by French authorities — as president last August, said: “The life bans announced could not send a stronger message that those who attempt to corrupt or subvert the sport of athletics will be brought to justice.”
WADA held back the second part of its report, pending French police and Interpol investigations. The IAAF Commission panel said there had been no requests for an adjournment because of those enquiries.