Athletics: Award of the 2021 World Championships to be investigated in the US

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

Corruption in sport is, sadly, widespread and is entirely incompatible with its very essence, which is – or at least should be – all about fair play. This seems, according to some commentators, to be down to the fact that sport, nowadays, is big business globally! There is so much at stake both on and off the field of play in both sporting and monetary terms.

Not only have we had the FIFA scandals that almost brought ‘the beautiful game’ to its knees, but we have also had corruption scandals in athletics, which have been undermining the integrity of the sport and its world governing body, the IAAF,  not least, its new President, Lord Coe, who is committed to reforming his sport.

Take, for example, the award in April 2015 by the IAAF of the 2021 World Athletics Championships to the US City of Eugene. This has been controversial from the outset, mainly because there was no actual bidding process followed by the IAAF. On 29 June, 2017, it has been announced that the matter is now being investigated by the FBI and the Criminal Division of the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

It should be mentioned that Eugene, in the US State of Oregon, has strong links with the leading US sportswear company, NIKE, and that, at the time, when Coe’s predecessor, Lamine Diack, who is currently being investigated by the French Authorities for corruption, awarded the event to Eugene, Coe was not only an ambassador for NIKE – and presumably paid by them for his services – but is also alleged, in his then role of IAAF Vice President, to have actively supported Diack in this move! Coe has since resigned his role with NIKE amidst claims of a conflict of interests.

A spokeswoman for the IAAF and Coe has stated that she was unaware of any investigations being carried out by the FBI and the IRS, but, in any case, the IAAF will cooperate with the US Authorities, as it is currently doing with the French Authorities. Furthermore, if any wrongdoing is found, the IAAF, she says, will take action, but without specifying what action would, in fact, be taken!

It will be interesting to see how this unhappy saga ends and, in particular, whether the City of Eugene retains the rights to host this flagship event, or whether it will be held elsewhere.

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’