A top global athletics official said she took up her role at international athletics body IAAF in 2011 with her “eyes wide open” about problems of doping, but found efforts to reform the organization parried at every turn.
Former Dutch pentathlete Sylvia Barlag was speaking ahead of an anti-doping agency report expected to criticize IAAF handling of a doping scandal that has shaken the sport.
November’s first part of the report cited a “state-sponsored culture” of doping in Russia, but suggested misconduct might reach well into the IAAF.
“I felt sad and angry and now it feels as if we are waiting to be slaughtered [by tomorrow’s report], but it’s better that it has all come out,” said Barlag, who after running on the same track as Sebastian Coe at the 1980 Moscow Olympics now stands shoulder to shoulder with the IAAF president in seeking radical reform to save it from the biggest crisis in the sport’s history.
Barlag, who became an IAAF Council member in 2011, said several council colleagues had expressed concerns that the world body was failing to deal with the growing issue of doping.
“I came in in 2011 with my eyes wide open,” Barlag told reporters in a telephone interview. “I was warned, but still surprised when I found out how frustrating it was that the questions we were trying to ask weren’t producing answers.”
“At one point in 2013 it was announced that there was to be no progress in terms of governance, so effectively we decided we would have to wait for the next presidential election in two years,” she said.
Former IAAF president Lamine Diack, who was succeeded by Coe in August last year, and other IAAF officials are now under investigation by French police and Interpol over corruption charges. Coe’s chief of staff, Nick Davies, has “stepped back” from the organization after a leaked e-mail appeared to show plans to delay naming Russian dopers to avoid embarrassing the country while it hosted the 2013 world championships.
After November’s first half of the Independent Commission (IC) of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report, Russia was banned from the sport and must act quickly to show it has reformed enough to be readmitted for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this year.
The findings largely revolved around officials taking money from athletes to suppress test results showing use of banned drugs. The practice put past competition results in question.
“We didn’t know any of this business and were shocked when confronted with the misdoings and fraud within the organization,” said Barlag, who praised media and whistleblowers for their part in exposing the problems.
Last week, the IAAF’s ethics committee banned for life two senior Russian officials and Papa Massata Diack, a former IAAF marketing consultant and son of Lamine Diack, over blackmail and corruption allegations in the cover up of a positive doping test by a top Russian marathon runner.
“My expectations are that now the ethics commission has delivered its verdict, I assume there might not be many new facts revealed, but let’s have it. Let’s see what’s in it then move on and keep cleaning up,” Barlag said.
Barlag’s career has been primarily in science, but she has also dedicated more than 20 years to administration in athletics and Dutch sport.
A talented all-round athlete, she finished 10th in the pentathlon, the forerunner of today’s heptathlon, behind a Russian podium clean sweep at the Moscow Games, where Coe won the first of his two 1,500m golds.
The 61-year-old said she was confident Coe was the right man to clean up the sport, though critics pointed to a failure to recognize Lamine Diack’s alleged corruption in his eight-year role as a vice-president.
“I think he’s [Coe] taken the right measures straight away. He’s been punished by the media for taking so long [when he was vice-president], but he couldn’t have started until he was elected,” Barlag said, “It’s not something you do in a day or a month.”
On Monday the IAAF released a 30-page response to part one of the WADA commission report, saying that though it felt the allegations of corruption were “abhorrent,” the problem was the result of a “very small number of officials.”
It also said several IAAF staff members had attempted to expose those dealings and ensure athletes who tested positive were given the bans they deserved.
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