PARIS (AP) — French prosecutors have opened an investigation into the IAAF’s decision to award the 2021 World Track and Field Championships to Eugene, Ore., without an open bidding process.
The financial prosecutors’ office in Paris aims to determine whether corruption, money laundering or other crimes may have been committed in the IAAF’s decision and, if so, whether prosecuting them might fall within French jurisdiction.
The office said Thursday that its probe, opened Dec. 1, does not target any specific individuals at this stage. It is also separate from another, more advanced criminal investigation being led by French magistrates into suspected corruption by former IAAF president Lamine Diack and two other people who worked for the sport’s governing body: lawyer Habib Cisse and former anti-doping chief Gabriel Dolle.
In France, preliminary probes that uncover wrongdoing can lead to a more formal criminal investigation or prosecutors can later close them down if they find no evidence.
“We have suspicions, otherwise we wouldn’t open an investigation,” a prosecutor said, speaking on condition of anonymity per his office’s requirement. “We are within our rights to have a look. But there may be normal reasons (for the Eugene award) that will lift the suspicions.”
Diack’s successor, Sebastian Coe, on Thursday again defended the selection of Eugene. Speaking to the BBC, he said it wasn’t the first city the IAAF has picked without open bidding. He also said the IAAF’s ruling council saw the first world championships to be held in the United States as a chance to break into that market.
“That’s not without precedent,” Coe said. “We have selected cities before not within a bidding cycle.
“By 23 to 25 votes my council decided that this was, for the foreseeable future, the best opportunity to get the world athletics championships into the United States,” Coe added. “Every sport is falling over itself to get into the largest sports market in the world.”
The prosecutors’ probe follows intense media scrutiny of Coe’s role in the Eugene decision. The 1980 and 1984 Olympic 1500m champion was, until last month, a long-time ambassador for Nike, which is headquartered outside Portland, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Eugene.
His dual roles for Nike and the IAAF led to questions about conflicts of interest, particularly after the BBC last month published an email in which a Nike executive wrote that he discussed Eugene with Coe three months before the surprise IAAF selection of the small Oregon city without a bidding process.
Coe “made clear his support for 2021 in Eugene,” wrote the Nike executive, Craig Masback. Coe has insisted he “did not lobby anyone.” The Swedish city of Gothenburg, which was also vying for the 2021 worlds, has called for the whole process to be investigated.