HEARD AT HALFTIME: Diack trial postponed after son’s testimony shows up from Senegal

The son speaks: New testimony from Papa Massata Diack (SEN) delays French trial until June (Photo: Jeune Afrique)

News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:

The new year has barely begun and the headlines are all about doping, doping and more doping: some old and some new and a long-awaited trial that has been postponed.

Athletics ● The trial of former IAAF President and IOC member Lamine Diack was adjourned shortly after it started on Monday when the French court was told that the testimony of Papa Massata Diack – Lamine Diack’s son – from a Senegalese hearing held last November was received earlier that day.

In order to review this new evidence, which could shed additional light on the cases at trial, the entire matter was postponed until June, with Agence France Presse suggesting that it could resume on 3 June.

In its opening statement, the French Financial Prosecutor’s Office said that Diack has led a conspiracy to extort from €100-600,000 from as many as 23 Russian athletes with doping positives to allow them to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. Some of this money was used to fund a $1.5 million contribution by Lamine Diack to the ultimately-successful 2012 presidential campaign of Macky Sall in Senegal (who was re-elected in 2019).

Lamine Diack, 86, appeared in court on Monday and asked to be able to see his brother in Senegal, but the court refused permission for him to leave France, where he has been under house arrest since 2015. Also in court were defendants Habib Cisse (FRA), Diack’s one-time legal advisor at the IAAF and Dr. Gabriel Dolle (FRA), the former IAAF anti-doping chief. Both were accused of handling bribes.

In addition to Papa Massata Diack, the two Russian defendants did not appear and are being tried in absentia: former IAAF Treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev and former distance coach Alexei Melnikov, both of whom are still in Russia.

The BBC reported that World Athletics (formerly the IAAF) is seeking civil damages of €41.2 million (~$45.9 million) from the six defendants for “loss of sponsorship revenue, damage to reputation and potential loss of earnings.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit announced doping sanctions against two star athletes from Africa:

On Friday (10th), Kenya’s one-time world-record holder in the marathon, Wilson Kipsang, was provisionally suspended for both “Whereabouts failures” and for “Tampering or Attempted Tampering.”

Now 37, Kipsang set a world mark of 2:03:23 to win the 2013 Berlin Marathon, defeating countryman and current world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge in the process, the latter’s only career loss in a marathon. He won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games and has victories at London (2012 & 2014), New York (2014) and Tokyo (2017). The next step will be a hearing.

On Tuesday, star sprinter Michelle-Lee Ahye of Trinidad & Tobago was suspended for two years for Whereabouts failures, with her results annulled from 19 April of last year. She was the Trinidad & Tobago national champion (11.18) in 2019 and won a bronze medal in the Pan American Games (11.27). She ranks no. 25 all-time in the 100 m at 10.82 from 2017, and at 27, was a medal contender for Tokyo. The decision is appealable.

Weightlifting ● The fallout continues from the bombshell 5 January ARD television documentary alleging corruption and doping cover-ups at the International Weightlifting Federation.

IWF President Tamas Ajan (HUN) has been all over Hungarian media, telling Inforadio that the IWF did not plan to sue ARD – at least not yet – but has asked for more documentation from the network. He said that did not plan to resign, but would not stand for re-election in 2021. He said of the impact: “My life, my 50 years of work, has been totally ruined by this documentary.”

USA Weightlifting chief executive Phil Andrews tweeted that “The correct response is to produce documented proof, or invite an investigation of the allegations. That is the only way forward for the IWF and the sport.”

In the meantime, the IWF announced that three more doping positives from the 2012 Olympic Games have been confirmed, including Erol Bilgin (TUR: 8th in men’s 62 kg), Razvan Martin (ROU: bronze medalist in men 69 kg) and Roxana Cocos (ROU: silver medalist in women’s 69 kg). All three are provisionally suspended.

There are impacts beyond further revision of the 2012 results; if the IOC confirms all three, the 2012 Games will have the record for the most total doping positives of any Games in history. If the two Romanian positives stand up, the country could have its entry quota for Tokyo cut to two lifters in total, or even banned completely for a year.

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The International Testing Agency announced during the IOC Session in Lausanne its plan for the Tokyo Games.

In cooperation with the Japan Anti-Doping Agency and the organizing committee, “some 6,200 samples are expected to be collected during the Games across 33 sports, 50 disciplines and 339 events.”

Assuming about 11,000 athletes compete in Tokyo, that’s still just 56% of the total.

There was other news:

Iran ● The only female medalist in Iran’s Olympic history, Kimia Alizadeh, is now in the Netherlands and has no plans to return. The Dutch broadcast service NOS reported Saturday that Alizadeh was on vacation in Eindhoven … and is staying there.

On her Instagram page last Saturday, Alizadeh wrote a long post in Farsi indicating she was not coming back to Iran, including (per Google Translate):

“I am one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran who have been playing for me for years. They took me wherever they wanted. Whatever they said I wore. Every sentence they ordered I repeated. Whenever they saw fit, they confiscated me. They put my medals on the obligatory veil and attributed it to their management and tact. I didn’t care. None of us care about them, we are tools. …

“Dear Iranian people, I did not want to climb the stairs of corruption and lies.

“No one has invited me to Europe and I haven’t been to the green garden. But I was suffering from the hardship of homesickness because I didn’t want to sit at the table of hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery. This decision is even harder to win than the Olympic gold, but I remain the son of Iran wherever I am. I give you encouragement, and I have no other wish than to trust you in the difficult path I have taken.”

She hasn’t posted since, but her path follows that of judoka Saeid Mollaei, who left the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo after being told to throw his matches in order not to face Israeli Sagi Muki, and went to Germany. He was given privileged refugee status there, but has since been given Mongolian citizenship.

Alizadeh won the bronze medal in Rio in the women’s 57 kg division. Reuters reported that no indication had been given hat she had applied for asylum.

In a related story, IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) said Tuesday that the Iranian Sports Minister and the President of the Iranian National Olympic Committee promised in a letter to observe the Olympic Charter in the future. This would include ending its discrimination against competitions with Israeli athletes and teams.

Of course, a similar letter was sent to the International Judo Federation last May, which was completely disregarded at the World Championships by Iranian officials. Bach said the IOC has forwarded the latest letter to the IJF, which has suspended the Iranian federation.

Badminton ● Japan’s superstar Kento Momota opened his 2020 campaign with a win at the Malaysia Masters tournament last weekend, then was injured in an automobile accident on the way to the airport in Kuala Lumpur.

The driver of the vehicle was killed, but the other four passengers – including Momota – survived. All received hospital care and Momota was released on Tuesday, and flew home to Japan. According to the BWF, “Momota sustained multiple laceration wounds to the face plus right maxillary sinus and nasal bone fracture.”

He hopes to return to action in March.

At the BuZZer ● The IOC continued its efforts to shore up the legacy of PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games by awarding the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games to that area. This was another Games award made by acclimation and without any other bidder.

The Dakar 2022 Youth Olympic Games in Senegal had its dates confirmed as 22 October to 9 November. Two new sports – baseball5 and wushu – were added to the program. Baseball5 is a barely-recognizable form of the game in which batters hit a ball with their hands, trying to get it past the infielders for a hit. No pitchers, no bats and five players per team. Wushu is a long-standing Chinese martial art, so Dakar will have judo, taekwondo, karate and wushu all on the program.