Massive sports corruption case involving ex-track boss finally heard at trial

Lamine Diack
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PARIS — A Paris court heard allegations Monday that top athletes hushed-up suspected doping by giving millions of dollars in illicit payoffs to corrupt administrators, as the trial got underway for the disgraced former head of track and field who was once among the most influential leaders in Olympic sports.

Wearing a face mask, Lamine Diack was present in court for the first of six days of hearings that will weigh evidence that his presidency of track and field’s governing body was riddled with corruption and other malfeasance, hurting athletes who raced against competitors who were suspected of doping but have since testified that they paid to keep competing.

Documents seized during the years-long investigation suggested that athletes paid to have doping charges buried or delayed, an illicit mechanism dubbed “full protection,” the court president said, outlining the case with tentacles stretching from Europe to Asia and Africa.

In the audience was a French marathon runner, Christelle Daunay, who competed against one of the athletes, Russian runner Liliya Shobukhova, who later testified to investigators about illicit payments to hush-up doping. Beaten by Shobukhova at the 2011 Chicago Marathon, Daunay is a civil party to the case and is seeking 110,000 euros in damages and compensation for earnings she believes she lost because of the alleged cover-ups by administrators at the IAAF, including Diack.

“It was a whole system and when you see all the money involved, it’s shocking,” Daunay said.

Diack, 87, the IAAF president for nearly 16 years, is being tried for corruption, money laundering and breach of trust. Prosecutors say he directly or indirectly solicited 3.45 million euros ($3.9 million) from athletes suspected by the IAAF of doping who paid to have their names cleared so they could continue competing. About two dozen Russian athletes were reportedly involved. Shobukhova testified that she alone paid the equivalent of 450,000 euros, a large chunk of which was subsequently refunded to her when she was later suspended for doping despite the alleged payoff, the court president detailed.

As IAAF president, Diack oversaw an era when Usain Bolt made track and field wildly popular. But Diack’s legacy, and the IAAF’s credibility, took a beating after he stepped down in 2015. He was arrested in France and investigators revealed accusations of athletes being squeezed for payments.

Gabriel Dolle, who oversaw drug-testing at the IAAF and is accused of taking 190,000 euros in payments, told the court that Diack asked him that suspected doping cases involving Russian athletes be handled “reasonably” to avoid a scandal that could set back IAAF negotiations with sponsors.

Dolle said he agreed to a “special, discreet” treatment for some athletes suspected of doping, which would have involved them being quietly prevented from competing. He said he was “furious” when some of them were then allowed to compete at the London Olympics.

“It was counter to what had been agreed. It was a betrayal,” he said.

Dolle is being tried on a corruption charge. He acknowledged having taken an envelope of money in 2013 from Papa Massata Diack, one of Diack’s sons. Dolle said Papa Massata Diack told him the money is “for what you’re doing for the Russian cases.”

Papa Massata Diack also faces corruption, money laundering and breach of trust charges. He lives in Senegal, which has refused France’s extradition requests for the former IAAF marketing consultant. He did not attend Monday’s hearing.

The court briefly considered but then rejected a request from a lawyer for Papa Massata Diack that the trial be delayed because two of his lawyers couldn’t attend because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

The trial had already been delayed from January to allow the inclusion of new evidence.

Prosecutors have also charged Lamine Diack for involvement in a $1.5 million payment from Russia for use in electoral politics in his native Senegal. Prosecutors say the money was creamed off sponsorship and TV rights deals, negotiated with Russian officials. Prosecutors say the money was to finance presidential and legislative election campaigns in Senegal in 2012, in exchange for slowing down doping cases targeting Russian athletes.

Diack is also accused of having enabled his son to embezzle IAAF sponsorship revenue from Russia’s VTB Bank, Chinese oil firm Sinopec and broadcaster CCTV, South Korean tech giant Samsung and others.

Lamine Diack is expected to testify on Wednesday. He was detained on a trip to France in 2015 and has been forbidden from leaving the country since.

Also on trial on corruption charges is a lawyer who advised Diack, Habib Cisse. Two Russians are being tried in their absence: Valentin Balakhnichev, a former IAAF treasurer, and Alexei Melnikov, a coach who led Russia’s long-distance running program.

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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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