PARIS (AP) — A lawyer who worked for track and field’s governing body when it first started to receive waves of new evidence pointing to a massive doping problem in Russia testified Wednesday in a Paris court that the sport’s then-president quickly decided to soft-pedal the problem.
Habib Cisse’s testimony shed light on the early days of what subsequently became the monumental saga of Russian doping. Russian athletes were barred from competing in the country’s colors at the last winter Olympic Games as a punishment for systematic doping and cover-ups, and the Russian track and field federation remains suspended.
Cisse, who worked as a legal adviser to former IAAF president Lamine Diack, testified at a corruption trial hearing allegations of payoffs to hush up suspected Russian doping cases. Cisse, who is among the accused, detailed how an improvement in anti-doping testing technology from 2009 revealed that blood doping had become a serious problem among Russian endurance athletes.
“There was a culture of doping,” Cisse testified. “No one could deny it.”
But rather than opt for a hard-line response that could have involved suspending Russia’s track federation, Diack instead ordered a softer, “non-confrontational” approach to avoid tarnishing the sport and the IAAF, Cisse told the court.
“President Lamine Diack decided not to take the route of suspension,” Cisse said.
Prosecutors allege that under Diack’s tenure as president from 1999 to 2015, the IAAF became riddled with corruption and that Russian athletes suspected of doping were squeezed for payoffs to delay or avoid potential sanctions. Diack denies the charges.
The 87-year-old Diack is being tried for corruption, money laundering and breach of trust. Prosecutors say he directly or indirectly solicited 3.45 million euros ($3.9 million) from athletes suspected by the IAAF of doping who paid to clear their names so they could continue competing.
Cisse also faces corruption charges. In court, he denied that he intervened to slow down anti-doping sanctions for Russian athletes.
Cisse was questioned about a note that investigators seized at his home which prosecutors allege listed payments. He called the note “a tissue of lies” and said he was never paid off by Russia athletes.
Cisse also said he never had discussions with Diack about hushing up doping cases for money.