Lamine Diack
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Former IAAF president’s son ‘very active’ in corruption

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PARIS (AP) — French authorities investigating former IAAF President Lamine Diack now say one of his sons was also “very active” in an alleged “system of corruption” that sought to blackmail athletes, with demands of money to hush-up suspected doping.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, France’s national financial prosecutor said investigators have verified that Diack, who presided for nearly 16 years at track and field’s governing body, pocketed “more than 1 million euros” ($1.1 million) from the alleged cash-for-silence scheme.

Evidence from the World Anti-Doping Agency that triggered the French probe suggests that a Turkish athlete, as well as athletes from Russia, was a victim of a blackmail attempt allegedly involving Diack’s family, prosecutor Eliane Houlette said in the AP interview in her Paris office.

According to WADA’s findings, at least one of Diack’s sons approached Turkish runner Asli Cakir Alptekin a few months after she won gold in the 1,500 meters at the 2012 London Olympics and suggested she could pay to quash a doping positive.

“It was a sort of blackmail,” Houlette said. “She refused.”

Alptekin was subsequently banned for eight years, for the second anti-doping rule violation of her career, and forfeited her gold in a settlement with the IAAF concluded in August this year.

“This athlete’s case figures in the report that the World Anti-Doping Agency gave us,” Houlette told the AP. But Alptekin hasn’t yet been interviewed by three French investigating magistrates now seeking to determine exactly how many athletes were approached, how much they paid and whether the elder Diack, in his role as IAAF president, simply turned a blind eye or was an active organizer.

A former long jumper who stepped down in August from the IAAF, Diack was taken into police custody last Sunday and released two days later after being formally placed under investigation on preliminary charges of corruption and money laundering.

His legal adviser at the IAAF, Habib Cisse, was also detained and charged with corruption. So, too, was Gabriel Dolle, a doctor who managed the anti-doping program at the IAAF.

In the AP interview, Houlette said the son, Papa Massata Diack, who worked under his father as an IAAF marketing consultant, is also thought to have played a “very active” role in the alleged corruption.

“We didn’t arrest Mr. Diack’s son because he didn’t come to Paris when he was meant to. But he is also implicated in this affair,” she said. “We haven’t had the opportunity to arrest him in France. We would have done so if we could.”

Papa Massata Diack has a sports consultancy company in Dakar, Senegal. Repeated phone calls on Friday morning to office and mobile phone numbers that he listed in earlier communications with the AP either went unanswered or did not ring through. The AP sent an email seeking comment to the address he used earlier this year to write to the news agency but got no immediate response.

At least six athletes, for the moment seemingly mostly Russians, are thought to have been told that their suspected doping could be hushed up, allowing them to continue competing, if they paid.

“It’s a form of blackmail when you say to someone: ‘Pay or you can’t compete,'” said Houlette. “I don’t know if we can call it a mafia system but it is a system of corruption. It’s extremely serious.”

Asked how much Diack senior is believed to have pocketed, she replied: “From what we’ve verified, it is more than 1 million euros and this money seemingly transmitted through the Russian athletics federation.”

“Because the investigations have just started, we cannot affirm that all this money came from payments from Russian athletes,” she said. “What is certain is that Mr. Cisse, the legal adviser to Mr. Diack, traveled to Russia and gave to the Russian federation the list of Russian athletes suspected of doping and, in exchange for sums of money, these athletes weren’t sanctioned.”

One of the conditions of Diack’s release on bail is that he is not allowed to have any contact with Papa Massata, she said.

On Monday, a WADA commission that has been investigating allegations of widespread doping and cover-ups in Russian sport will announce the findings of its 11-month probe, which was prompted by a damning German television documentary.

The French probe and allegations against Diack are severe early tests for the presidency of his successor at the IAAF, Sebastian Coe. With football officials at FIFA also facing criminal probes in the United States and Switzerland, two of the most powerful governing bodies, supposed guardians for two of the most popular sports, are now operating under dark clouds.

Houlette said sports need stricter internal regulation and “have become totally gangrenous with all this money.”

“Most of all, stop this practice of electing federation presidents for life, either nationally or internationally,” she said. “Sports need democracy.”

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Lamine Diack under investigation for doping cover-up

Rafael Nadal can tie Roger Federer’s Slam record with 13th French Open

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For all of the many qualities contributing to Rafael Nadal’s unprecedented superiority at the French Open — the bullwhip of a high-bouncing lefty forehand, the reflex returns, the cover-every-corner athleticism, the endless energy and grit — there’s one element that stands above all the rest.

According to the opponent Nadal beat in the last two finals in Paris, anyway.

“You go into the match knowing that even your best tennis, even if you play it over three, four hours, might not be enough. I mean, if you do it, you maybe have a little chance, but you have to go to your limit on every single rally, every single point,” Dominic Thiem, who won the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago, told The Associated Press.

“That makes it not easy to go into the match,” Thiem said. “And that’s the mental part, I guess.”

When main-draw competition begins Sunday at Roland Garros, Thiem and every other player in the men’s bracket will be pursuing Nadal as the 34-year-old from Spain pursues history.

If Nadal manages to claim a 13th French Open championship — extending his own record for the most singles trophies won by anyone at any major tennis tournament — he would, more significantly, also collect his 20th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roger Federer’s record for a man.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal’s tally elsewhere: four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, one Australian Open.

He spoke Friday in Paris about what “probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros” — a lack of matches in 2020; a new brand of tennis balls (“super slow, heavy”); cooler weather and plenty of rain in the forecast.

“But you know what?” Nadal said. “I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible.”

Asked recently about the possibility of catching the 39-year-old Federer, out for the rest of the season after a pair of operations on his right knee, Nadal expressed a sentiment he’s uttered before.

Climbing the Grand Slam list, Nadal said, is “not an obsession at all.”

“I know that you put a lot of attention on all of this,” he replied when the topic was raised last week at the Italian Open, Nadal’s first tournament since February because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Of course I would love to finish my career with 25, but (that’s) something that probably will not happen. I’m going to keep fighting to produce chances, and then when I finish my career, let’s see, no?” he said. “I just want to keep enjoying tennis. And that’s it. If I am playing well, I know I normally have my chances. If not, going to be impossible. That’s it.”

There is, of course, another great of the game playing during this era and, like Nadal, gaining on Federer.

That would be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who had won five of seven major titles to raise his total to 17 before being disqualified at the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball while walking to a changeover.

In this oddest of years, the Grand Slam season will drawing to a close in France; the clay-court major was postponed from May until now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Roland Garros is the last Slam, the last opportunity of this season. So we all know who the main favorite is there: Obviously, it’s Nadal. And everything that he has achieved there, losing maybe a couple matches in his entire career on that court … is probably the most impressive record that anybody has on any court,” Djokovic said. “So, yeah, of course you would put him right there in front as a favorite to win it.”

For the record: Nadal has won 93 of 95 matches in the French Open and his last 21 in a row.

So what makes him so dominant there?

“He’s an unbelievably great tennis player. Probably on clay, a little bit better than on the other surfaces,” Thiem said. “He’s left-handed, which makes it very uncomfortable. And then his forehand, the topspin on the clay, it’s cruel to play.”

Thiem takes notes and hopes to emulate aspects of Nadal’s game.

So do others.

In Rome, for example, two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep and one of her coaches, Artemon Apostu-Efremov, caught one of Nadal’s training sessions.

“We were watching the way he hits the ball, the acceleration, the energy he has on the court and the way he practices 100%. It’s always an inspiration,” Apostu-Efremov said.

“This dedication on the court and focus on court,” he said, “it’s something that, for sure, could be transferred to Simona.”

Nadal wound up losing his third match in Italy, which is neither ideal form nor the sort of prep work he is accustomed to ahead of Roland Garros.

Still, Nadal at the French Open is unlike anyone else, anywhere else.

“Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist seeded No. 5 in Paris. “He always finds a way, every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

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Skate America will not have fans

Skate America
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Skate America, the top annual international figure skating competition held in the U.S., will not have spectators in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

U.S. Figure Skating said the restriction was “due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in strict accordance with the Nevada Gaming Control Board guidelines.”

Skate America is the first top-level event of the season, kicking off the six-stop Grand Prix Series leading up to December’s Grand Prix Final, which is scheduled this season for Beijing.

The series has already been modified to restrict fields to skaters from the host country or to the event closest to their training location.

Grand Prix fields have not been announced, though two-time world champion Nathan Chen said last month he hoped to go for a fourth straight Skate America title.

Chen trains in California. Most, if not all, top U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada, which means they will compete in Skate America or Skate Canada if they participate in the Grand Prix Series at all.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough to compete on the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

Skaters are limited to one Grand Prix start this season. In past seasons, they’ve typically competed twice.

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