When can you never go too far? When you are throwing a javelin, of course. The furthest distance thrown wins a gold medal – unless the athlete throwing the javelin fails a doping test.
The scale of reports about corruption, drug test fixing, and blackmail at the highest levels of the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) makes the FIFA scandals seem like a minor traffic violation by comparison. Earlier this month, WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency issued a 323 page report full of serious allegations of criminal misconduct throughout international athletics, usually called track and field in the U.S. According to the AFP news agency, the report’s co-author Richard McLaren said “you potentially have a bunch of old men who put a whole lot of extra money in their pockets through extortion and bribes.”
The list of corruption allegations is so large that the “60 Minutes” news show could not report it all in one broadcast. The AFP news agency has also published allegations that:
- Russian athletics chiefs and the sons of former IAAF President Lamine Diack blackmailed athletes suspected of doping to let them keep competing
- Lamine Diack’s two sons, Pape Massata Diack and Khalil Diack, were alleged to have asked for $500,000 from Turkey’s 1500m women’s Olympic champion Asli Cakir Alptekin in November 2012, following which she decline the deal
- Gabriel Dolle, former director of the IAAF’s Anti-Doping Department, was also charged with corruption by French police
- IAAF’s newly elected President, former London 2012 CEO Lord Sebastien Coe, announced “I’m shocked, angry and largely saddened”
While Lord Coe expressed shock, an important basic fact shows that the existing foundation of international sports administration is not strong enough to stand up to well financed match fixing schemes. Disgraced doping cheat Lance Armstrong has been retroactively stripped of some championships, but he remains a wealthy man and has never been prosecuted for criminal threats made to silence the insiders who knew about extensive use of banned substances by Armstrong and his teammates.
Out of left field, the Volkswagen emissions test fixing scandal is raising a new quandary for the core group of sports organization administrators who aim to preserve the best traditions of fair play. It is now known that sophisticated technology to manipulate the results of scientific tests exists. And we also now know that these test falsifications are difficult and expensive to detect.
The choices for sports sponsors are not easy. Theoretically, they can walk off the playing field. Sony and Johnson & Johnson terminated sponsorship deals with FIFA in large part because of allegations from UK investigators and journalists regarding influence peddling in the 2018 Men’s World Cup host country award. These decision involved three notable sacrifices. First, the former sponsors had to invest in other advertising campaigns to offset the impact of ad campaign discontinuity. Second, the former sponsors had to redesign product packaging and promotional materials. Third, the former sponsors gave up the strategic value of pre-empting other sponsors with category exclusivity rights. Blocking competitors is sports sponsorships is often as strategic as blocking in team sports.
What is next? The International Olympic Committee responded quickly with a news release to the world media. The IOC Ethics Commission recommended the provisional suspension of honorary IOC membership once held by former IAAF President Lamine Diack. In addition, the IOC announced that “this is a deeply shocking report and very saddening for the world of sport. The IOC trusts that the new leadership of the IAAF with its President Sebastian Coe will draw all the necessary conclusions and will take all the necessary measures. In this context the IOC welcomes the clear commitment expressed by IAAF to do whatever it takes to protect the clean athletes and rebuild trust in our sport.”
This is a lot easier said than done. The serious allegations made in the IAAF report show that it is simple to falsify medical tests and difficult to do anything about it. That is a tool that can destroy almost anything and anyone in its path. The world’s top sports organizations have not been able to enforce effective counter measures to date. Until they do, the power of medical test con artists will cast a shadow over the entire world of sports.