Champion long jumper. Coach of the Senegal national football team. Mayor of Dakar. Head of global athletics for 16 years. Olympic powerbroker. Fixer. Corruptor. Convicted super criminal.
Lamine Diack packed a lot into his extraordinary 88 years, which came to a quiet end on Friday. Yet we are perhaps still nowhere close to knowing all of his felonies – and the friends he helped along the way.
True, what we know is staggering enough. Last year Diack received a four-year sentence from the French courts for masterminding a scheme in which the IAAF, now World Athletics, agreed to cover up secretly 23 cases of Russian doping in exchange for £2.7m in bribes. And while another French investigation into Olympic vote-rigging continues, Diack has already been named by a senior figure in the Rio 2016 team as receiving £1.77m for securing African votes. Yet when I spoke to his son, Papa Massata Diack, last year, he hinted that this might be scratching the surface.
“The day Lamine Diack opens his mouth the IOC and Fifa will fall apart,” Papa Massata told me. “Because Lamine Diack knows a lot of secrets, on how the deals were cut to get a lot of the Olympic Games. He knows everything. He’s been the power broker. He was a force in the IOC for a long time.”
Some will say that Massata Diack is a discredited voice, given he was sentenced to five years in prison, fined €1m and banned from sport for 10 years for his part in the Russian doping scandal. It is also true that he remains the subject of an Interpol wanted notice. However, Massata Diack, who is protected by the authorities in Senegal, maintains he was not given a fair trial by the French courts, is innocent and will appeal.
What is also indisputable is that Massata Diack operated in the corridors of power long before he became an IAAF marketing consultant after his father took charge of global athletics in 1999. He pointed out that he started his company Pamodzi in 1987 and sold $620m of sponsorship contracts in his career. But, he added, cryptically: “Maybe the time of keeping quiet is finished.”
In recent weeks Massata Diack has used his Twitter account to drop a few hints about what he might know. And when I spoke to a seasoned Olympic consultant on Friday, who talked on condition of anonymity, he believed this could be just the start – and that Massata Diack did indeed know many of his father’s secrets. “With Lamine Diack’s passing, there will be a lot of very important people around the world holding their breath as to what Papa will do next,” he said.
“Because if this liberates Papa to say: ‘Well, now my father can’t be punished one way or the other, and I’m safe in Senegal, I might as well just let rip,’ there’s going to be a lot of people, from bids going right back to the 90s, who will be extremely anxious as to what Papa is going to do.”
That person also reckoned that Lamine Diack was the last of the great sports dictators, people who – like Sepp Blatter, Juan Antonio Samaranch, Joao Havelange and Primo Nebiolo – could pretty much do what they liked with their federations. “It was an opportunity to basically create a fiefdom that you controlled with total power,” he added.
Few opposed Liam Diack. Another source remembers him demanding lots of expensive Seiko watches to give to his friends at his last IAAF congress before the world championships in Beijing 2015. When Diack was told all the quota of watches in the Seiko sponsorship deal had been used up, he immediately demanded a load more be provided from future years. Who would dare say no?
But has the era of the sporting dictator really ended? Recent history suggests not. Last year a report into the International Weightlifting Federation found shocking levels of corruption, cronyism, cover-ups, bribes and an omerta that would impress the five families. At one point the report noted that the former head of the IWF, Tamas Ajan, even called up the head of the Albanian weightlifting federation and issued an ultimatum: pay a $100,000 fine for doping offences – in cash – or his team would not go to the Rio Olympics.
Meanwhile the governing body of amateur boxing, Aiba, is still trying to earn its place back in the Olympic movement after being stripped of its right to run the Tokyo 2020 boxing tournament after the IOC warned that its behaviour presented “serious legal, financial and reputational risks to the IOC and the Olympic Movement”.
It is easy to see why this happens. International sports federations are autonomous, which means there is no sheriff to watch over them, and they also face little scrutiny from the press, public or the IOC. Clearly executive term limits, greater transparency, independent ethics committees and clear anti-corruption guidelines should be a given for all sports bodies. They are not. As things stand, it is easier for those who should be scrutinising power to fall in line rather than rock the boat.
That was seen, of course, with the IAAF. And while Diack has passed on, the question remains over what secrets he took to his grave. Dead men tell no tales but living ones still might.