Two top Russian athletics officials and the son of former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) were banned from football for life on Thursday for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test.
Ex-IAAF consultant Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF boss Lamine, and Russian officials Alexei Melnikov and Valentin Balakhnichev were charged with multiple breaches of anti-doping rules relating to Russian athlete Liliya Shobukhova.
Ex-IAAF anti-doping director Gabriel Dolle has been banned for five years, while Diack, Melnikov and Balakhnichev also face the prospect of hefty fines in addition to their expulsion from the sport.
The bans follow last year’s World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report that alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia which resulted in the country being banned from athletics until reforms were implemented.
Balakhnichev says the decision to ban him was politicized and is aimed at discrediting the entire Russian sport.
“Some forces have decided to increase pressure on the Russian sport by taking such a radical decision,” he said.
“The arguments given by the opposite side are far-fetched and inconsistent.”
Balakhnichev is considering appealing the verdict with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland.
His lawyer, Artem Patsev, claimed the decision against his client is based on suggestion rather than facts.
“Not a single fact was given in this decision and at the meeting of the ethics commission – no doubt, this decision is politicized,” said Patsev.
The scandal first came to light in February 2014, when Russian sports agent Andrey Baranov revealed to an IAAF official that Shobukhova had given $490,000 to senior Russian officials in exchange for covering up violations in her athlete biological passport.
Baranov’s revelation to Sean Wallace-Jones potentially compromised his own personal safety, but when he subsequently told ethics commission head, Michael Beloff QC, that some IAAF officials were involved in extorting money there was no turning back.
As Beloff started to investigate, Shobukhova stopped paying bribes and was subsequently banned in Spring 2014.
In December that year a German TV documentary revealed widespread doping in Russian athletics, while French newspaper L’Equipe exposed the extortion of Shobukhova.
All the officials denied any wrongdoing, while many in the sport questioned Baranov and Shobhukhova’s motives in coming forward.
Baranov insists his client deserves great credit for her actions: “Shobukhova was a product of a system which was exposed by WADA where athletes were encouraged to dope or were frozen out,” he said.
“Liliya was also brave to speak out. Not many people know what she did or what she went through.”
Baranov also admitted he still fears the repercussions from speaking out: “Of course I’m worried, but what are you going to do?” he added. “It had to be done for the future.”
Former British athlete David Bedford is a staunch anti-doping campaigner. He praised the Russian duo.
“As horrible and sordid as this case is, our sport is in a better position now knowing this happened than if it had been pushed under the carpet,” said Bedford. “As a sport we have to give credit to Baranov, Shobukhova, and Wallace-Jones who bought this to the ethics commission.”
Athletics will now brace itself for the second part of the WADA report to be published next Thursday. The report, produced by former WADA president Dick Pound, is expected to be even more explosive than the first.
Meanwhile, IAAF representatives are due to land in Russia next week to review progress on reforms made by the All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).