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Ex-IAAF president’s son, Russian officials get life bans in track corruption scandal

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LONDON (AP) — The son of former IAAF president Lamine Diack and two Russian officials were banned from track and field for life on Thursday after an investigation into blackmail, extortion and doping cover-ups.

A fourth official, former IAAF anti-doping director Gabriel Dolle, received a five-year ban from the ethics commission of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Banned for life were Papa Massata Diack, who worked as an IAAF marketing consultant; former Russian athletics federation head Valentin Balakhnichev, who was also honorary treasurer of the IAAF; and Alexei Melnikov, former head coach of Russia’s race-walking and long-distance running programs.

The sanctions centered on the case of Russian marathoner Liliya Shobukhova, who was allegedly extorted out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid a doping ban before the 2012 London Olympics.

In addition, Papa Massata Diack and Balakhnichev were fined $25,000 and Melnikov was fined $15,000.

Dolle was banned only for five years because “his sins were those of omission, not commission,” the IAAF panel said.

The investigation followed a report by German broadcaster ARD in December 2014 alleging that former Chicago Marathon winner Shobukhova paid 450,000 euros ($520,000) to Russian officials, who threatened her with a doping ban before the London Games.

When Shobukhova was initially banned for two years in 2014, her husband reportedly received a 300,000 euro ($345,000) refund payment linked to Balakhnichev. Then treasurer at the IAAF, he stepped down within days of the program being broadcast.

Thursday’s verdicts are separate from the criminal investigation in France into former IAAF officials. Lamine Diack was taken into custody by French authorities in November on corruption and money-laundering charges, suspected of taking more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to blackmail athletes and cover up positive tests.

Dolle and Habib Cisse, Diack’s legal adviser at the IAAF, were also detained and charged with corruption in France.

In a statement, the IAAF said it was “angered” that the officials sanctioned by the ethics panel “conspired to extort what were in substance bribes from the athlete by acts of blackmail.”

“The IAAF has already introduced corrective measures to make sure this sort of interference can’t happen again,” it said, adding that the four banned officials are “no longer associated with the IAAF in any capacity.”

“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,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said.

The ethics sanctions were announced a week before a World Anti-Doping Agency commission, headed by Dick Pound, delivers the second part of a report into allegations of widespread doping in track and field. The report is expected to focus on allegations made by British and German media outlets of rampant blood doping, based on leaked information from an IAAF database.

Pound’s first report alleged state-sponsored doping and corruption in Russia. The findings led the IAAF to suspend Russia’s athletics federation, leaving the country’s track and field athletes in danger of missing the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

An IAAF task force will visit Russia on Sunday and Monday to inspect the country’s response to the scandal.

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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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