Olympic Sport on the Precipice?
How long can the Olympic rings, and the global athletics movement those rings represent, survive the spate of governance scandals now plaguing international sport? The urgency of this question became more apparent in the wake of the second report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Independent Commission (IC) investigating the Russian—IAAF (International Federation for the Sport of Track and Field) doping scandal issued January 14, 2016.
IAAF on the hot seat
The IC’s most recent report was focused on evidence that
the IAAF facilitated doping by Russian track and field athletes, permitting Russian athletes who should have been banned to compete. In advance of the report, IC chairman Dick Pound promised “shock value.” The report delivered on that promise.
The Pound Commission’s report describes a shocking new low in the governance of international sport, finding that the actions of high ranking IAAF officials “allowed dirty Russian athletes to compete and alter the results on the playing field.” Long running bribery and extortion permitted a number of Russian athletes, who should have been suspended, to compete and win medals in the 2012 London Olympic Games and the 2013 IAAF World Championships.
The second IC report is part travelogue, relying on witness testimony and access to travel records, to detail how IAAF money was spent by IAAF emissaries jetting to far flung and exotic locales to extort bribes from dirty athletes and their handlers. Like some medieval trading caravan, the trail of bribes stretched from Monaco to Istanbul to Moscow. Reflecting the modern global reach of the scheme, tainted cash likely flowed to front businesses in Senegal, Singapore and Switzerland.
Widespread awareness of corruption
The report also puts to the lie the oft repeated myth that the existence of corruption within the IAAF medical and anti-doping department and the delay of Russian cases was accomplished by an isolated band of rogue employees and consultants and was not generally known to IAAF staff and board members. In fact, for months before and since the delivery of the first IC report last November the sporting world has heard frequently-repeated claims by current IAAF insiders that the IAAF doping scandal was the work of a few off-the-grid individuals working in secret. This fantasy has now been laid bare and current IAAF officials who have repeated it are shown to have been dissembling.
Instead, what emerges from the latest report is a picture of corruption so rampant and flagrant that the corruption was openly discussed by the IAAF brass while it was going on. A 2013 email from Nick Davies, who, until disclosure of the email, was serving as the IAAF deputy secretary general, demonstrated Davies’ awareness in 2013 of a Russian “skeleton . . . in the [IAAF] cupboard regarding doping” and discussed the need to “be smart” and ensure that the truth regarding long delayed Russian cases not be disclosed until after the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. The IC report scorns Davies’ conduct in joining the cover up as “completely inexplicable” and derides “an evident lack of political appetite within the IAAF to confront Russia with the full extent of its known and suspected doping activities.”
The IC reports that “[i]t is increasingly clear that far more IAAF staff knew about the problems than has currently been acknowledged” and concludes that, “[i]t is not credible that elected officials were unaware of the situation affecting . . . athletics in Russia.” The IC concluded that “[a]t least some of the members of the IAAF Council could not have been unaware of the extent of doping in Athletics and the non-enforcement of applicable anti-doping rules.”
Who can lead the IAAF?
The complicity of IAAF senior officials and staff in the cover up of the scandal begs the question of whether those same officials and staff members can now be trusted to lead the IAAF out of its ethical morass. Davies is reported to be a close confidant of current IAAF president Sebastian Coe (elected last September), who appointed him to deputy secretary general. Davies’ knowledge of delayed Russian doping cases demonstrates how well known the corruption had become within the organization and has led to questions about whether his friend, Coe, is the right person to lead the IAAF out of the scandal. Coe himself was the vice president of the IAAF throughout the period of the extortion and bribery scheme.
The IC report describes an IAAF culture riven by conflicts of interest and where only a handful still held onto the Olympic ideals of integrity, honesty and sportsmanship. The IC report, therefore, provides scant confidence that the current leadership of the IAAF has what it takes to lead the IAAF out of this quagmire. Rather, the report provides clear evidence that embracing the truth about the extent of the problem at the IAAF, even over the past six months under its new president Sebastian Coe, and right up to the days preceding issuance of the second report, the organization continued to engage in a pattern of denial, minimization, and deception, failing both to acknowledge the scope of the problem or the involvement of many holdover insiders by not confronting the corruption sooner.
The individuals identified by the IC report as “miscreants” include the former IAAF president, Diack, and two of his sons, who acted as paid consultants to the IAAF. The roles of Diack’s sons in negotiating on behalf of the IAAF were well known. The IC found that the “IAAF Council [of which current IAAF president Coe was a part] could not have been unaware of the level of nepotism that operated within the IAAF.”
The IC further found that “[t]he checks and balances of good governance were missing in the IAAF hierarchical structure.” Amazingly, within a twenty-first century international organization, there was apparently no conflict of interest policy at the IAAF. According to the IC, the IAAF still “has an inadequate governance process in place to prevent the corruption that occurred.”
The IC report spares no one who was involved with the governance of the IAAF during the 2011-2015 timeframe. The IC points out that, “the growing importance of good governance within international sport organizations cannot have escaped the notice of the IAAF, its members and staff.” Yet, “[d]espite this, the IAAF took no steps to ensure that best practices were put in place and were implemented [.]”
Perhaps the most telling observation in the IC report is that, the “[f]ailure to have addressed such governance issues is an IAAF failure that cannot be blamed on a small group of miscreants. The opportunity existed for the IAAF to have addressed governance issues. No advantage was taken of that opportunity.” Thus, the IC report fully supports the conclusion that the IAAF scandal only occurred because of a systemic failure of each member of the IAAF leadership, including, apparently, each council member and each officer, to address well known and apparent policy deficiencies, conflicts of interest, nepotism and miss-management and corruption within the anti-doping operations of the IAAF.
The courageous few
Yet, shining through the gloomy fog of seedy treachery and self-dealing enshrouding the IAAF, does emerge a ray, or rather three rays, of hope. The IC report identifies a triumvirate of individuals who did not compromise their integrity and who alone emerge from the haze of the IAAF scandal with their integrity intact: IAAF lawyer Huw Roberts, IAAF deputy anti-doping administrator Thomas Capdevielle and Dr. Garnier, a physician in the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department. These individuals stood against the tide and tried to bring the Russian doping cases forward. However, they were thwarted by more senior officials, and eventually Roberts resigned in protest.
Several pages of the report describe how lawyer Roberts repeatedly confronted IAAF president Lamine Diack with evidence of the delayed Russian doping cases, eventually extracting an admission from the president that a deal had been cut with the Russians. Diack has been subsequently charged by French prosecutors with taking more than a million dollars in bribes. When the hidden cases were not brought forward after Diack repeatedly promised Roberts he would do so, Roberts left the IAAF.
The conduct of Roberts, Capdevielle and Garnier is commendable and courageous. These men did what others in the IAAF should have done to put integrity and the interests of clean sport above even their own job security. Had more within the IAAF, like these men, joined in opposing the cartel of wrongdoers the corruption might have been stopped before reaching epidemic proportions and before dopers were allowed to tarnish the sport and ruin the Olympic dreams of clean athletes. Sadly, however, the courage of the untarnished trio was isolated.
Following the first IC report, the WADA Foundation Board met to receive the report and acted by declaring the Russian national track and field federation non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code. As a consequence the Russian track and field team is not currently eligible to compete in this summer’s Rio Olympic Games. If the WADA Foundation Board adheres to this precedent it will soon meet to determine whether the IAAF should be declared non-compliant with the Code, a determination which could cause the IAAF to lose its status as the international federation for the sport of track and field. By detailing systemic and long running corruption at the highest levels of the IAAF, as well as a failure to adequately address and confront these problems, the IC report fully supports decertification of the IAAF.
A call to action for the IOC
The IC report also presents a strong call to action for the International Olympic Committee. It seems likely that if the Olympic Movement’s keystone sport is plagued by massive governance and corruption issues that the governing bodies of other Olympic sports may be deficient as well. Indeed, the recent FIFA scandal would suggest as much. For the Olympic Movement to retain its standing and the confidence and allegiance of the world’s athletes and sports fans, the International Olympic Committee must demand action, governance reform must come to Olympic sport, and it must come soon.