Lamine Diack
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Ex-IAAF president tells police of Russian political donation, report says

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PARIS (AP) — The Russian doping scandal took a new twist Friday when a French newspaper reported that former IAAF President Lamine Diack asked Russia for more than $1 million to fund the political opposition in his native Senegal.

Diack told French police that he asked for 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) from Russia in 2011 to help finance the opposition ahead of Senegal’s presidential election, Le Monde reported.

The request came at a time when the International Association of Athletics Federations was dealing with a slew of suspected Russian doping cases.

French police took Diack into custody in November for questioning. He was subsequently placed under formal investigation on corruption and money-laundering charges. Le Monde said it has seen transcripts of his hearings.

France’s national office for financial prosecutions has alleged that Diack, who presided for nearly 16 years at track and field’s governing body, pocketed more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in what prosecutors suspect was a corrupt scheme to blackmail athletes in exchange for hushing up suspected doping.

The IAAF has suspended Russia from international competition. Its athletes could miss the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August if their federation doesn’t take remedial steps against widespread, systematic and allegedly state-sanctioned doping detailed in a damning report last month from a World Anti-Doping Agency investigative committee.

According to Le Monde, Diack told his questioners that he asked for the money from Valentin Balakhnichev, then president of the Russian track federation. The paper reported that Diack said he wanted to finance the Senegalese political opposition against then-President Abdoulaye Wade.

“I told him that to win the elections, I needed about 1.5 million euros,” Diack said, according to Le Monde. “He said to me, ‘We’ll try to find it, no problem.'”

Contacted by Le Monde, Balakhnichev denied having had such a conversation with Diack.

Without saying directly that Russia paid him to look the other way, Diack drew a link between Russian political financing and Russian doping cases, according to excerpts in Le Monde.

“At that time there was these problems of suspending Russian athletes a few months ahead of the world championships in Russia,” the paper quoted Diack as telling the police. “We came to an agreement. Russia paid. Balakhnichev organized all of that.”

Contacted Friday by The Associated Press, Balakhnichev said: “My position on Diack’s statement is in the Le Monde newspaper.” Diack’s lawyer, Christian Charriere-Bournazel, would have no comment before Saturday morning, his offce told the AP.

Le Monde quoted Balakhnichev as saying: “Neither I nor my federation was implicated in such a discussion or affair with Mr. Diack. This type of business is not in our interest or within our power. We cannot interfere in the internal affairs of Senegal.”

Dick Pound, head of the WADA committee that investigated doping in Russia, said Friday that his panel has not turned up the Senegalese political angle in its own probe.

“I have no idea what that is meant to do, whether it’s the truth or whether it’s an attempt (by Diack) to try to demonstrate that he wasn’t doing this for personal gain,” Pound told the AP.

The French prosecutor’s office said Friday that it had no comment on Le Monde‘s report.

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2020 French Open women’s singles draw, results

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If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.

Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.

Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.

If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.

Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.

The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.

The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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2020 French Open men’s singles draw, results

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Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.

Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.

Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.

The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

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