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Former Russian athletics chief slams life ban as anti-Moscow plot

Valentin Balakhnichev, President of the All-Russia Athletic Federation, takes part in a ceremony to announce a host city of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2013, in the coastal town of Mombasa, Kenya, in this March 27, 2007 file photo.
Valentin Balakhnichev, President of the All-Russia Athletic Federation, takes part in a ceremony to announce a host city of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2013, in the coastal town of Mombasa, Kenya, in this March 27, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga/Files

The world athletics governing body, the IAAF, on Thursday banned three senior officials for life over an alleged cover-up of widespread doping. Former head of Russian athletics Valentin Balakhnichev, the country's former head coach Alexei Melnikov and Papa Massata Diack, the son of the former IAAF president Lamine Diack, were barred from any athletics-related activity. The decision sparked outrage among the concerned parties.

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The ban is a "clearly politicised decision", Valentin Balakhnichev declared on Thursday, shortly after hearing of the IAFF's plans to ban him from athletics for life.

"Certain forces are trying to increase the pressure on Russian sport by taking such a radical decision," the former Russia athletics chief told state-run TASS news agency.

Moscow has been under scrutiny for weeks now, after already being suspended from track and field in November by the sport’s world governing body.

Balakhnichev has threatened to appeal the IAAF's decision but Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told the R-Sport agency that the move was expected and "there is no sense in appealing".

Along with Balakhnichev, three other men are also implicated in the latest doping scandal to rock the crisis-hit athletics body: the son of former world body president Lamine Diack, former Russian walking coach Alexei Melnikov former world body anti-doping doctor Gabriel Dolle, suspended for five years by the ethics commission.

The panel found that the four "conspired to extort what were in substance bribes from the athlete by acts of blackmail".

The case centres on doping violations by Russian long-distance runner Lilya Shobukhova. The latter is believed to have paid the accused more than 600,000 dollars (553,000 euros) to have her doping violations covered up so she could compete at the 2012 London Olympics.

According to the IAAF report, Balakhnichev gave information that at least five other Russian athletes had given cash to cover up doping offences.

The former athletics chief alleged that he had been "blackmailed" by the IAAF and that the system was orchestrated by the world body president's son and Habib Cisse, a former lawyer for the president.

Russia - already under suspension - now faces a race against time to be readmitted for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

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