Features 1st February 2018

US prosecutors encompass athletics in new corruption investigations

US prosecutors have issued subpoenas seeking information from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the US Olympic Committee (USOC) and FIFA related to the hosting of international sporting events, reports The New York Times. It is understood that the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has requested documents, testimony and financial records dating back to 2013 in relation to the awarding of the IAAF World Championships to Doha in 2019 and Eugene, Oregon, in 2021.

There is much to investigate. French prosecutors have been examining allegations of corruption in athletics since August 2015. Its financial prosecutor, the Parquet National Financier (PNF) said that it opened ‘several investigations’ after being passed information by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on 4 August 2015, which resulted in the arrest of former IAAF President Lamine Diack.

In December 2015, the PNF widened the scope of its investigation to include the awarding of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. In March 2016, the scope of the investigation was widened to include awarding of the Rio 2016 Olympics; to include the award of the the 2021 World Athletics Championships to Eugene, Oregon; to include allegations of corruption in connection to the 2006 IAAF Athletics World Cup; allegations concerning the award of the 2017 World Athletics Championships to London and the 2019 edition to Doha.

The 2021 IAAF World Championships were awarded to Eugene without a bidding process. ‘The proposal to award the IAAF’s premier competition to Eugene, bypassing the usual bidding process, was taken in response to what was seen as a unique strategic opportunity to host the IAAF World Championships for the first time in the USA’, read a 16 April 2015 IAAF statement. Eugene is the Oregon city where Nike was founded, leading to allegations that IAAF President Sebastian Coe lobbied former IAAF President Lamine Diack for Eugene to host the event due to his connections to the sportswear manufacturer, which sponsored him for 38 years. Coe has denied the allegations.

In evidence given to the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee on 3 December 2015, Coe said that his predecessor, Lamine Diack, had taken the decision as “the funding arrangements, which I was aware of because of my work as the chair of the evaluation commission, would not hold together for very much longer”. The funding package was put together by TrackTown USA, which describes itself as ‘birthplace of the most storied and respected track and field program on the planet’, on an internet site designed to promote Eugene as a destination for athletics excellence. Coe told the CMS Committee that 2021 was awarded to Eugene due to the financial support package on offer, which was largely supplied through support from broadcaster NBC.

In his evidence given to the CMS Committee meeting, Coe answered “no” to questions on whether Nike was part of the funding package put together by TrackTown, or if it was putting any money in. However, as shown in the picture below, the footer of TrackTown’s internet site clearly shows a Nike logo. Mark Pilkenton, Nike’s Director of Global Brand Culture until August 2015, was also Marketing Director for TrackTown12 (U.S. Olympic Team Trials in ­Eugene, 22 June 22 to 1 July 2012) and Eugene 08 (2008 Olympic trials). Coe told BBC Radio 4 that Eugene’s bid to host the 2021 Worlds was put forward by US Track & Field (USTF), which is sponsored by Nike.

In September last year, an investigation involving prosecutors in five countries unveiled a complex scheme designed to pay US$2 million to Diack in return for Africa’s block vote to appoint Rio as 2016 Olympic host. This resulted in the arrest of Carlos Nuzman, President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB) and former Director Leonardo Gryner in October last year. Nuzman was also suspended as a member of the IOC’s Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission.

US prosecutors are understood to be focussing on Helios Partners. The company was the lead agency behind Russia’s successful bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, as well as the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. It was also behind the Russian city of Kazan’s successful bid to host the 2015 international swimming federation (FINA) World Championships, and worked on Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games. In 2012, Helios Partners was bought by Amaury Group, a French media company whose Amaury Sport Organisation subsidiary organises the Tour de France.

News of the investigation bears all of the hallmarks of previous investigations by US prosecutors into FIFA, which is perhaps why nobody was prepared to comment to the New York Times. The Department of Justice (DoJ) waited until the FIFA family converged at the Baur au Lac hotel for the FIFA Presidential elections before arresting officials. The Olympic family are currently converging on PyeongChang for the 2018 Winter Olympics…

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