By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – The IAAF said it “fully acknowledges and accepts the extreme gravity” of the findings of the WADA independent commission on Thursday after athletics’ governing body was hammered for weak governance that allowed widespread corruption at the top.
The International Athletics Federation (IAAF) said in a statement that the weakness of its governance “had allowed individuals at the head of the previous regime to delay the following of normal procedures in certain doping cases”.
It said that the commission’s recommendations, in the report, to strengthen IAAF governance would be incorporated “into the root and branch review which was begun by IAAF President Sebastian Coe immediately he came into office”.
The WADA commission exposed the corrupt regime of former president Lamine Diack and said knowledge of it must have been widespread among senior figures of the Monaco-based federation.
Coe accepted that the organisation’s Council, of which he was a long-standing member, should have been aware of the corruption and told Reuters he would introduce reforms to ensure there would be no repeat.
“I will put systems in place for the current council and so that my successor is never in a position that we don’t understand the nature of the day-to-day running of the organisation,” Coe said after Pound had said he felt the Briton was the right man to lead the IAAF.
“We cannot change the past, but I am determined that we will learn from it and will not repeat its mistakes,” he added.
American track and field (USATF) President and IAAF Council member Stephanie Hightower said she was “disturbed” by the report but also gave backing to Coe.
“I agree with Mr Pound that President Sebastian Coe is the person to lead the sport into a new era and put these types of allegations in our past, not our future,” said Hightower.
“It has been clear, since allegations first started to be made public, that the governance of the IAAF must change to become more transparent in order to ensure accountability and credibility.”
Former Russian athletics chief Valentin Balakhnichev, who was heavily criticised in the report and was banned for life for corruption and blackmail last week, gave the report little credence.
“I have no hope of receiving a fair decision or any serious proof from WADA or the IAAF ethics committee,” Balakhnichev was quoted as saying by R-Sport news agency.
“I am disappointed in these people who cannot prove anything.”
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko also told R-Sport: “This document is mainly about corruption in the IAAF, it does not particularly concern Russia.
“Accusations against Balakhnichev are not a problem for Russia, they are a problem for the IAAF. We cannot interfere in the activities of an international federation.”
Russia remains suspended from international athletics following the revelations of the first part of the WADA commission report in November.
Travis Tygart, head of U.S. anti-doping, said he thought Russia should not be re-instated in time to compete in this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Where we are right now, them still denying, still attacking the whistleblowers and the truth, with no lab, with no testing a few months before the Games, it’s impossible to correct (in time),” he told Reuters.
WADA president Craig Reedie said of the findings: “It is hugely disturbing that individuals at the highest levels of the IAAF were abetting and covering up doping for their own financial gain.
“This flagrant disregard for the law and anti-doping rules undermines trust amongst clean athletes, and indeed the public, worldwide. Given their criminal nature, the actions of these individuals are now in the hands of the French justice system.”
Reedie also said he would like to thank “the courageous whistle-blowers and investigative journalists” who brought evidence of corruption to WADA.
However, WADA itself did not escape criticism on Thursday, with the whistle-blowers Reedie praised – Russians Vitaly Stepanov and wife Yuliya – saying the organisation did nothing when they raised their initial concerns in 2010.
In an interview with Canadian TV, Vitaly said he had been told by an unnamed official at WADA to take his concerns to the media.
“Of course both of us were frustrated … even at WADA there were people who did not want this story to get out,” Stepanov told CBC.
“There is no anti-doping movement in athletics, in Russia it is the completely opposite – it is a doping movement and everyone around you says that is the only way to succeed … you dope and you lie about it.”
(Editing by Andrew Roche)