Did Frankie Fredericks jump to do the right thing or was he pushed?
And should the four-time Olympic silver medalist sprinter and International Olympic Committee member from Namibia be allowed to return to his administrative positions in international sport, no matter the outcome of investigations by the IOC ethics committee and French law enforcement?
Those are the questions raised by Fredericks’ stepping down from major roles in the IOC and the international track federation after the French newspaper LeMonde reported last week financial ties between Fredericks and the sulfurous former IAAF marketing consultant Papa Massata Diack.
Papa Massata Diack is the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack of Senegal, who was forced to resign as an honorary IOC member in the light of World Anti-Doping Agency independent commission reports alleging he took bribes for not sanctioning Russian dopers and, through his son, that he received kickbacks from IAAF contracts.
French law enforcement has charged the elder Diack with money laundering and corruption. The son has been banned for life from involvement in track and field.
The Le Monde story ties Papa Massata Diack and Fredericks to money the newspaper said may have been used as bribes to help Rio become host of the 2016 Olympics. Fredericks was both an IOC executive board member and an election monitor (called a “scrutineer”) at the time of the Oct. 2, 2009 IOC vote for the 2016 host city.
In a statement he issued Tuesday announcing he would give up several IOC posts while his case was being investigated, Fredericks denied any improprieties, saying, "I reiterate that I was never involved with any vote manipulation or for that matter any other inappropriate or illegal practice.''
Soon after, the IOC released a statement acknowledging Fredericks’ resignations. That release significantly contained a link to an IOC ethics commission recommendation that the IOC executive board remove Fredericks as chair of the 2024 Summer Games evaluation commission and suspend him provisionally from both voting in the Paris-vs.-L.A. 2024 decision and from remaining head of the coordination commission for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
Give the IOC some credit on this one (at least for now.) Its ethics committee recommendation gave Fredericks no choice but to put distance between himself and the 2024 decision. Had he not resigned, it seems clear the IOC executive board would almost certainly have embarrassed Fredericks by forcing him to do it. Needless to say, there was no way a person facing vote corruption allegations, however tenuous they now seem, could run the commission evaluating the 2024 bids.
Monday, Fredericks had said he was stepping aside from the IAAF task force overseeing the process for the potential readmission of the Russian track and field federation, currently suspended for both its negligence toward and alleged active cover-up of doping by Russian athletes. Fredericks, noted for his courtly demeanor as an athlete, remains among the 27 members of the IAAF’s governing council.
Frederick’s IAAF decision was not enough for Bulgaria’s Dobromir Karamarinov, president of his national track federation and vice-president of European Athletics. In a Tuesday tweet, Karamarinov said, “I believe as Frankie Fredericks has admitted taking money from Papa Diack he has no choice but to step down from IAAF Council permanently.”
Marton Gyulai, a European Athletics Association council member and general secretary of the Hungarian federation, agreed with Karamarinov, tweeting, “I see no other option to preserve (regain?) the integrity of the sport.” Pierce O'Callaghan of Ireland, a senior consultant to the European Olympic Committees, chimed in with, "Frankly anyone who has ever taken one cent from Papa Diack should immediately step down from any role held within sport."
Le Monde reported an offshore company linked to Fredericks (Yemli Ltd.) had a marketing contract with one of Papa Massata Diack’s companies (Pamodzi Sports) from 2007 to 2011. Fredericks’ company received a payment of $300,000 from Diack’s company the day of the 2016 host city election.
In answering questions from Le Monde by email, Fredericks acknowledged the contract with Pamodzi Sports but maintained the timing of what he described as a long overdue payment from Diack’s company was coincidental. Fredericks said the payment had nothing to do with the Olympic Games.
The IOC long has turned a blind eye to conflicts of interest, both perceived or real. This time, it seems to understand the damage they can cause, even if the conflict may turn out to be only one of perception.
The Le Monde story, reviving ugly memories of bid city votes bribery that had gone on for years before being exposed in Salt Lake City’s successful 2002 Winter Games candidacy, only added to the problems of an IOC currently trying to put out wildfires with a spray bottle.
Cities are saying no to the risk of being burned by the financial risk of hosting an Olympics. Rio’s 2016 venues are already in a state of desuetude. With the Russian doping scandal raging, the IOC equivocated and passed the buck on sanctions against Russian athletes at the 2016 Olympics. Meanwhile, the IAAF and the International Paralympic Committee won widespread praise for their Rio bans on Russia.
The BBC’s Dan Roan, one of the world's best-informed journalists on Olympic matters, wrote Monday that the idea of banning the entire Russian team from the 2018 Winter Olympics “is finally gaining traction among the upper echelons of the IOC, and there is a growing acceptance that it could help demonstrate some leadership at a time when it desperately needs to restore credibility.”
Both the IAAF and the IOC would benefit from a strong stand in the Fredericks case. Having done business with Papa Massata Diack during a period when he was allegedly using any and all means he could to line his family’s pockets and corrupt a sport is, at best, a sign of poor judgment by Fredericks. At worst, if there is a link to the Rio vote, it would be utterly damning for Fredericks. But even if there is no fire in the allegations against him, the smoke of suspicion may cling a long time.