PARIS (Reuters) - French judges investigating corruption in athletics have extended their inquiry to look into the bidding and voting processes for the hosting of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, according to France’s financial prosecutor.
With the Rio Games only five months away, the news opens up the possibility of the Olympics now being dragged into the scandal which has been rocking its premier sport of athletics.
“We are looking at these elements, but at this stage it is a question of verification. Nothing has been proved,” an official from the prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.
In response, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would act on any evidence the prosecutors provided about how the bid processes for the Rio and Tokyo Games were conducted.
Until now, allegations of corruption involving senior officials of the world governing body of athletics, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), have been focused mainly on events organized by the IAAF, which has no say in the awarding of Olympic hosting rights.
The French investigation was opened in December in response to media reports that questioned the way the IAAF awarded its 2021 world championships to the U.S. city of Eugene.
Yet the prospect of the investigation being widened to look at the Olympics bidding too was raised in January when a World Anti-Doping Agency independent commission report alleged the involvement of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who is already being investigated by French authorities.
The WADA commission report suggested up to $5 million of sponsorship money may have been a factor in swaying the vote of Diack to vote for Tokyo rather than Istanbul, which declined to pay the money.
Tokyo 2020 organizers in January denied that, saying any reference in the WADA report was “beyond our understanding” as the city presented the best bid.
Diack’s family has called the allegations against him “excessive and insignificant”.
Of the French prosecutor’s involvement, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said: “When we get evidence we have shown we will act on it. It is an easy thing to talk about, but no one has any evidence... At the moment there is nothing to act on.”
The IOC, though, wants to be actively involved with the French authorities’ investigations.
“The IOC has been in close contact with the French prosecutors since the beginning of this investigation last year,” the IOC said in a statement.
“The IOC’s chief ethics and compliance officer had already asked for the IOC to be fully informed in a timely manner of all issues that may refer to Olympic matters and has already applied to become a party to the investigations led by the French judicial authorities.”
Rio 2016 organizers said on Tuesday there was no possibility the vote to award the Games to the Brazilian city could have been tainted.
”Rio de Janeiro won the right to host the Games because it had the best project. The difference in the votes, 66 to 32 against Madrid, excludes any possibility of an election that could have been rigged,” Mario Andrada, communications director for Rio 2016, told Reuters.
Still, it is just another concern for organizers of an event which has been beset by a host of problems in the build up, including a spiraling economic crisis in Brazil, the alarming spread of the Zika virus and ongoing problems with water pollution at Games venues.
The IOC has suffered its own problems with corruption in the past, having to clean itself up more than 15 years ago when an investigation ahead of the Salt Lake City 2002 winter Olympics triggered the biggest corruption scandal involving IOC members.
Ten of them resigned or were expelled in connection with bribery and rules governing bids were tightened.
In January, two top Russian athletics officials and the son of Diack were banned from the sport for life for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test and blackmailing her over it.
The bans follow last year’s WADA independent commission report that found a state-sponsored culture of doping in Russia and prompted the country’s suspension from the sport.
Additional reporting by Pedro Foinseca and Andrew Downie; Reporting by Gerard Bon and Karolos Grohmann; Writing by Andrew Callus and Ian Chadband; Editing by John Irish and Alison Williams