Duncan Mackay

Remember back in April at the SportAccord Convention when Marius Vizer had made himself the Olympic Movement's number one enemy following his explosive speech criticising Thomas Bach, who was it that was in the vanguard opposing this dangerous mutineer? It was Lamine Diack, then still the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The Senegalese octogenarian compared Vizer to a "dictator" after his speech in his position as President of SportAccord in Sochi during which he had accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of lacking transparency, ignoring the International Federations, blocking his plans for new multi-sport competitions and wasting money on an Olympic TV channel and Opening and Closing Ceremonies. He described the IOC system as “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent". 

Diack responded by becoming the first International Federation to suspend its membership of SportAccord, claiming Vizer was “a chief coming from nowhere”. 

It led to a memorable exchange between the two - the like of which I had never witnessed before. "About the decision from Mr Diack of the athletics, I want to make just one comment and with that I close this subject," Vizer declared following the IAAF's decision. "I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for sport, I mean sacrifice in a way of dedication, and in my eyes [Diack is] a person who sacrifices sport for his family."

Marius Vizer, then President of SportAccord, had claimed in Sochi in April that Lamine Diack was a
Marius Vizer, then President of SportAccord, had claimed in Sochi in April that Lamine Diack was a "person who sacrifices sport for his family" ©SportAccord

At the time, Vizer's remarks were widely seen as a comment on Diack’s son, Papa Massata Diack, who had left his role as an IAAF marketing consultant a few months earlier, after he was linked to a $5 million (£3 million/€4.5 million) payment, allegedly requested in 2011 from Doha during their unsuccessful campaign to host the 2017 IAAF World Championships. 

The attack was embarrassing for Diack but at the time it was Vizer who ultimately appeared the biggest loser. A good man to many who was ostracised for saying the right thing in the wrong way. 

Perhaps now, though, in the light of recent allegations about Diack accepting bribes to help cover up positive drugs tests involving Russian athletes, Vizer was being prescient. Was Vizer, a close personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, already aware of what Diack had allegedly been up to?

Whether he did or not, these are clearly uncomfortable times for Bach. Diack is the fourth current or former President of a leading organisation who has served alongside him on the IOC to be implicated in a major corruption scandal. He follows Sepp Blatter at FIFA and Issa Hayatou, head of the Confederation of African Football and now the acting President of football's world governing body but who has, in the past, been accused of accepting a $1.5 million (£1 million/€1.4 million) bribe from Qatar to vote for them to host the 2022 World Cup.  

Then there is Hein Verbruggen, accused of several misdemeanours during his 14-year reign as President of the International Cycling Union. Bach can surely no longer claim that these are isolated cases. It is no wonder that, to the outsider, sport must look rotten to the core, a world where old men are using their position to fill the pockets of their expensively-tailored suits. 

Just as athletes who take drugs taint everyone else in the sport, these elderly men - and they are always elderly men - leave a stain on the reputations of their colleagues who are mostly devoted to ensuring they do the best they can for their sports. 

I have been covering athletics professionally for more than 25-years now and during that period there has been several occasions on which the sport has been facing "its greatest crisis". My journalistic career started shortly after Ben Johnson's positive drugs test following his 100 metres victory at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Since then there have been several scandals which has supposedly signalled the end of the sport, including the BALCO affair which I helped uncover. But none of them have felt half as serious as this latest controversy. 

Sebastian Coe, who succeeded Diack as IAAF President, is predictably punch-drunk by the allegations against a man he described as the sport's "spiritual leader" shortly after he was elected in Beijing in August. He needs to pick himself up quickly, however, because it is probably going to take all of the 12 years he is allowed to serve in the position to restore athletics' reputation - if it can be restored at all.

Lamine Diack had described allegations of widespread cover-ups involving athletes who had tested positive at the IAAF as a
Lamine Diack had described allegations of widespread cover-ups involving athletes who had tested positive at the IAAF as a "joke" at the IOC Session in Kuala Lumpur in August ©Getty Images

I was genuinely shocked last week when news broke of Diack's arrest on allegedly accepting more than €1 million (£714,000/$1.1 million) in bribes to help Russian athletes avoid punishment for failing drugs tests. Unlike his predecessor, the Italian Primo Nebiolo, who he had succeeded in 1999 following his death, there had been no suggestion of him being personally involved in corruption while in charge of the IAAF. Nebiolo, you may recall, was accused of multiple charges, the most serious of which were covering up nine positive drugs tests at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (although not for personal financial gain) and fixing the result of the long jump at the 1987 World Championships in Rome. 

Diack did, though, receive a censure from the IOC in 2011 after he admitted receiving three cash payments totalling $30,000 (£19,200/€28,000) and 30,000 French francs (£4,000/$6,100/€5,700) from marketing firm ISL after his house in Senegal was burned down in 1993 "for political reasons". At the time, Diack was a vice-president of the IAAF, which was negotiating a marketing contract with ISL. Perhaps everyone, especially the IOC, should have been a lot more suspicious then. He was allowed to remain as an IOC member, however, only having to step down at the end of 2013 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 80. 

His reputation did not appear to suffer in the eyes of Bach, however. He allowed the highly unusual situation at the IOC Session in Kuala Lumpur in August of letting Diack address the floor, although now only an honorary member. Diack was responding to new allegations from German broadcaster ARD and British newspaper The Sunday Times that medals won in Olympics and World Championships stretching back years had been claimed by athletes who had recorded suspicious tests, but which had been covered up by the IAAF. 

Diack described the allegation as a "joke". He denied any wrongdoing by his Federation, claiming that the IAAF “has done everything for doping control".

We know now, though, Diack was actually part of the problem, not the solution. Perhaps instead of hounding out of his position at SportAccord and turning him into a pariah, everyone should have listened to Marius Vizer after all.