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IAAF expands Ethics Board’s powers in corruption clampdown

Wednesday 20 January 2016



The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has increased the powers of its Ethics Board (the 'Board'), substantially boosting its capacity to investigate alleged bribery and corruption used to cover up endemic and systemic doping programmes, which have plagued international athletics for decades.

The IAAF Council authorised the Board – formerly known as the Ethics Commission – to introduce several new rules to expand the scope of its investigations into suspected cases of ethical misconduct across all parts of the IAAF, which has 214 affiliated countries and territories across the world.

The move is significant as the Independent Commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released its second damning report on 14 January relating to allegations of widespread doping in international athletics, which highlighted serious ‘governance failures within the IAAF’.

Michael Beloff
Chair, IAAF Ethics Board

The IAAF, FIFA and other sports’ governing bodies have come increasingly under fire for purported bribery and corrupt practices. The allegations currently facing the IAAF are, arguably, far more serious even than those facing FIFA given the widespread ramifications of either state-sponsored or privately backed doping programmes, which have the potential to affect the outcome of major sporting events – and the subsequent prize money, lucrative sponsorship deals and performance fees that these generate – as well as the long-term health of athletes.

The IAAF’s Ethics Board was created in February 2014 as an independent judicial body in response to growing concerns that some members of the IAAF were violating its code of ethics. From the outset, the Board had the authority to appoint an independent investigator to probe the alleged violations, adjudicate whether the code had been breached and, if necessary, impose sanctions. But, it was seriously limited in terms of the investigations it could undertake. 

For instance, regardless of the seriousness of the allegations, initially it was only able to look into complaints made by people within the IAAF – something the Board’s Chair, Michael Beloff QC, describes as incongruous.

‘Originally we could only act if there was a complaint by a member of the IAAF family, which to us looked anomalous,’ he tells Global Insight: 'It didn't look right that it had to be a member of the IAAF family, because to an outsider it might look like we're part of a closed shop and can only investigate if someone within the very body which established us says we can.' On the initiative of the Board the IAAF Council removed the restriction as of 26 November 2015.

‘‘[The pressing ethical and legal concerns] are caused by the amount of money involved in, and the degree of power now given to, sports organisations

Akira Kawamura, member of the IAAF Ethics Board and former IBA President

Beloff chairs the Board alongside other high-profile names from the sporting and legal worlds, such as Australian former Olympic runner Kevan Gosper and former IBA President Akira Kawamura.

In recognition of its expanded remit and the growing number of investigations it is handling, the Board grew from seven to nine in January and appointed its first two women – Justice Catherine O’Regan, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and Singaporean sports lawyer Annabel Pennefather, who is the incumbent Vice-President of the Singapore National Olympic Council.

Since November, the Board has also been able to talk more openly about its investigations. Previously, Board members were prohibited from disclosing information about ongoing investigations before disciplinary proceedings had been completed, leaving it open to allegations of inaction, as in the recent case involving Liliya Shobukhova.

The Russian marathon runner has already served a two-year ban after abnormalities were discovered in her athlete biological passport, but last year she alleged two members of the Russian athletics federation – an IAAF member – extorted €450,000 from her to cover up a positive drugs test so she could compete in the London 2012 Olympics.

Following the rule change, on 6 November the Board released a statement saying it had appointed the Right Honourable Sir Anthony Hooper, a recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal of England and Wales, as an independent investigator to look into the allegations.

Akira Kawamura

In August, Hooper recommended disciplinary charges be brought against Papa Diak, the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, and three other sports officials accused of concealing Shobukhova’s doping violations. In January 2016, following a hearing in December, the Board called for the IAAF to impose a lifetime ban on three of the officials, including Diak, and issued Gabriel Dollé, former Director of the IAAF's medical and anti-doping department, with a five-year ban.

On a national level, following the Shobukhova revelations Russia has been singled out for its alleged doping practices. On 9 November, WADA’s Independent Commission published a damning report exposing endemic state-sponsored doping in Russia’s athletics federation. On 13 November, IAAF members voted overwhelmingly in favour of suspending the country from all international competitions until it fulfils a list of criteria to regain membership.

Russia isn’t the only country under suspicion of creating a culture that has allowed widespread doping to thrive. The Board has already taken action against Kenya following a rule change allowing implicated persons to be suspended or expelled while investigations are still ongoing. On 30 November, three Kenyan athletics officials were provisionally suspended from taking part in any athletics-related activity over allegations of corruption and the ‘potential subversion of the anti-doping control process’.

Both Beloff and Kawamura agree that money is clearly a driving factor in creating a doping sub-culture.

'The amount of money that athletes from less affluent countries can make on the road races and so on is enough to support whole families and can provide a powerful incentive to bypass the rules. And, as far as the Olympics and World Championships are concerned national pride is also at stake, which provides an additional stimulus to some athletes, with or without the connivance of their governing bodies to cheat,’ says Beloff.

Kawamura believes the most pressing ethical and legal concerns in the sporting world ‘are caused by the amount of money involved in and the degree of power now given to sports organisations in the context of today's global societies.’

As well as doping, he says corruption and abuse of power can take on many other forms, whether in the bidding and selection process for appointing venues or cities to host sporting events or even to appoint individuals to particular positions of authority. 

So great is the concern that money has pervaded all levels of the athletics world that the UK’s House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee questioned IAAF President Sebastian Coe as part of its inquiry into blood doping in athletics at the beginning of December.

Coe was quizzed about his ambassadorial role with Nike, with its six-figure remuneration – which he recently stepped away from – and the controversial decision to award the 2021 World Championships to Eugene, where Nike was originally based and whose headquarters are now located just 100 miles away in Portland. Coe told the Select Committee he chose to sever his commercial relationship with Nike on 26 December after consulting the Board. French prosecutors are investigating the decision to award Eugene the event without the usual bidding process.