Life bans for trio in doping bribe scandal

Frank Dalleres
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Lilia Shobukhova of Russia competes duri
Liliya Shobukhova paid £435,000 to have positive drug tests covered up (Source: Getty)

The scale of corruption in world athletics has been illustrated further after governing body the IAAF banned three top officials for life for blackmailing a Russian athlete as part of a doping conspiracy.

Papa Massata Diack, son of the IAAF’s then-president Lamine Diack and a marketing consultant to the crisis-hit organisation, and senior Russian athletics chiefs Valentin Balakhnichev and Alexei Melnikov were all issued with lifetime suspensions yesterday, while the IAAF’s one-time anti-doping director Gabriel Dolle was banned for five years.

Papa Massata Diack, Balakhnichev and Melnikov were all found guilty of extorting around £435,000 from Russian distance runner Liliya Shobukhova in exchange for covering up the former London Marathon winner’s doping over a period of more than three years.

The bans follow November’s bombshell World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) report which accused Russia of running a state-sponsored doping programme – allegations that led to the country’s athletes being banned from international competition indefinitely, putting their participation at the Rio 2016 Olympics in doubt.

“The panel considers 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,” said the IAAF’s ethics commission.

“Any lesser sanction would not meet the gravity of their offences. In GD’s [Dolle’s] case such ban is also appropriate but in his case for five years only. His sins were those of omission, not commission.

“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.”

Shobukhova, 37, was banned in 2014 and had all her results from 2009 onwards – including a 2010 London Marathon triumph – annulled but had the suspension cut short in August for turning whistleblower.

Lord Coe, who succeeded the long-serving Lamine Diack last year and has denied any knowledge of the conspiracy within the IAAF’s top echelons, welcomed the bans.

“I’d like to thank the independent IAAF ethics board for their diligent and detailed investigation,” said the former London 2012 chief, who has vowed to clean up the sport.

“The life bans announced today could not send a stronger message that those who attempt to corrupt or subvert the sport of athletics will be brought to justice.”

Balakhnichev, the former president of Russia’s athletics federation, and Melnikov, a leading coach, have both denied wrongdoing.

Lamine Diack, 82, remains under investigation by French police on suspicion of accepting more than €1m (£745,000) to cover up positive drug tests during his 16-year tenure.