PARIS (Reuters) - The controversial decision to award the 2021 athletics world championships to the U.S. city of Eugene is being investigated by France’s national financial prosecutors as part of a wide-ranging probe into the sport’s governing body.
A spokesman said on Wednesday that prosecutors decided to open the investigation on Dec. 1 following reports in international media that questioned the decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
“At this point, no conclusions can be drawn,” the spokesman said. “We considered that there are elements that merit being checked out.”
In April this year the hosting rights were awarded to Eugene, Oregon without a bidding process, to the surprise of the Swedish city of Gothenburg, which was in the process of preparing to present its own case.
IAAF president Sebastian Coe said recently that the decision was made after a presentation by his predecessor, Lamine Diack, who said that certain financial and commercial opportunities had arisen that he felt meant Eugene should be awarded the rights without contest.
The world championships, which began in 1983, have never been held in the United States, the sport’s most powerful nation.
The IAAF Council voted 23-1 in favor, with one abstention, with those behind the Gothenburg bid left frustrated and confused at the change of tack.
Diack is already under investigation in France for alleged corruption relating to demands for payment from athletes to hide positive doping results. Other IAAF officials are also being questioned by French police and Interpol.
Bjorn Eriksson, leader of the Gothenburg bid and former head of Interpol subsequently said the decision “smelled” and needed an investigation.
Eugene is closely linked to U.S. sportswear firm Nike and that connection also caused disquiet as Coe, an IAAF vice-president at the time of the vote, was a long-standing paid ambassador for Nike.
Though the double Olympic champion continually denied that there was any conflict of interest, he finally severed the link two weeks ago, saying that the “noise” around the situation had become a distraction as he sought to deal with the doping and corruption crisis that has left the sport reeling.
Organizers of the Eugene event had no comment on Wednesday but in a statement to Reuters last month, they said: “In relation to the bids from the United States for the 2019 and 2021 World championships, TrackTown USA stands behind the integrity of these candidatures, which have been made public.
“The Eugene bid adhered to all ethical standards for organizing and presenting our bid, and the decision to award the 2021 World Championships to Eugene was made by a vote of the IAAF Council.”
The Monaco-based IAAF was unavailable for comment on Wednesday but, when previously asked about the decision, told Reuters: “There is nothing to revisit. This was a democratic decision of the IAAF Council.”
Eugene lost out to Doha for the 2019 event while the next edition, in 2017, is in London.
Reporting by Chine Labbe; writing by Leigh Thomas/Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ruth Pitchford