April 1, 2016
Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko announced on Friday that Russia will formally honor former IAAF president Lamine Diack and his son Papa Massata Diack in a ceremony at the Kremlin on Sunday. Russian president Vladimir Putin will oversee the proceedings himself as the Diacks will receive the coveted Order of the Bear for their contributions to Russian sport.
“The Diacks have been instrumental in Russia’s ability to remain a global force in athletics and this ceremony to recognize their contributions is long overdue,” said Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko. “Lamine played a huge role in the glorious 2013 World Championships, where Russia proved its might by winning the most gold medals. But the Diack family’s legacy goes well beyond one meet. I shudder to think where Olympic champions Mariya Savinova and Yuliya Zaripova would be without the Diacks’ support.”
The timing of the ceremony is odd. In November, the Russian athletics federation was banned from international competition following the publication of a report made by WADA’s Independent Commission, which revealed systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia. Earlier that month, Lamine Diack was arrested in France over bribery allegations while Papa Massata Diack, who is wanted in France for alleged corruption and money laundering, remains in Senegal.
Because of these complications, it is unclear whether the Diacks will be in attendance at Sunday’s ceremony, but Mutko says that if the pair cannot make it, they will press on.
“Whether the Diacks grace us with their presence or not, we will honor them in spirit,” Mutko said. “They have done so much for Russian athletics. We won seven golds in Moscow and eight in London. Some of them might not stick, but it is not possible for the IAAF and IOC to strip every title. We’ll take that tradeoff.”
Mutko refused to confirm the reports that if the Diacks could not attend the ceremony that current IAAF President Sebastian Coe would fill in. Coe was effusive in his praise of Lamine Diack last August saying, “[Lamine Diack] ceases to be our president on the 31 August, but he will always be our spiritual president and he will certainly be my spiritual president.” At the time, Papa Diack was under investigation for bribery and cover-ups related to the Doha 2017 Worlds bid and Russian doping.
When the ceremony was announced, many observers believed it to be the final nail in the coffin in Russia’s bid to be reinstated by this summer’s Olympics in Rio. But at least one man disagrees.
“I fully believe that Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in Rio” Putin said. “Seb Coe doesn’t have the stones to cross me. I’m Vladimir Putin. Do you really want to make me mad?”
Putin then casually changed subjects and expressed his condolences for the two sudden deaths of Russian anti-doping officials this winter.
In other news, Germany and China announced that they plan to hold similar celebrations for Olympic champions and world record holders Marita Koch and Wang Junxia, both of whom have already been inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.