EUGENE — Eugene’s acquisition of the 2021 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field is facing increased scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department, according to a report Wednesday in The New York Times.
U.S. prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas in what is reportedly a wide-ranging investigation into international sports corruption involving FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations — the governing body of track and field — which awarded the 2021 World Championships to Eugene in 2015 without going through a formal bid process.
TrackTown USA, the local organizing committee that spearheaded the efforts to bring the world championship meet to Eugene, issued a statement from CEO Michael Reilly on Wednesday that read: “Our role was to put the best bid forward. We are proud of our bid and stand by it.”
TrackTown USA went through a lengthy bid process for the 2019 World Championships, and presented it in front of the IAAF Council in November 2014 in Monaco as one of three finalists.
After losing out to Doha, Qatar, the group was gearing up to try again for the 2021 World Championships when the IAAF surprisingly awarded the meet to Eugene in April 2015 by a 23-1 secret-ballot vote organized by now-disgraced former IAAF President Lamine Diack.
According to The New York Times, the Justice Department is exploring possible racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges, and have solicited documents, testimony and financial records dating back to 2013 with particular interest in how the IAAF awarded the World Championships to Doha and Eugene.
It’s unknown if TrackTown USA has been contacted by Justice Department officials, and an email asking TrackTown USA for clarification went unanswered Wednesday.
But some of the organizations that were part of Eugene’s 2019 bid presentation to the IAAF said they haven’t been contacted by Justice Department officials regarding the investigation.
“Never been contacted by anybody,” said Paul Weinhold, a Medford High graduate and president and CEO of the University of Oregon Foundation, which is guaranteeing the funding of the 2021 World Championships and spearheading what is expected to be a massive renovation of Hayward Field to prepare it for the meet. “Not even a phone call, not even an email. Nothing. Zero.”
Tobin Klinger, the UO’s senior director of public affairs communications, said, “We have no information or reason to believe the 2021 championship is tied to this investigation. The university has not been contacted by law enforcement regarding the 2021 world championships. The university will cooperate fully if we are contacted.”
Jill Geer, a spokeswoman for USA Track & Field, had a similar statement: “We have no knowledge of any investigation. Should we be contacted, we certainly would cooperate.”
The comments by Klinger and Geer would seem to indicate the investigation has not reached out to TrackTown USA President Vin Lananna, who also is president of USATF and an associate athletic director at the UO.
Lananna couldn’t be reached for comment, but he previously has said that he stands by the process his team went through to land the 2019 meet — a process that paid off in the end.
“We are proud of the bid on its merits and strongly believe that the quality and merits of the bid were ultimately the driving factor in the (IAAF) council’s decision in 2021,” he told The Register-Guard in 2015.
The move to award Eugene the 2021 World Championships without a bid process was not unprecedented. The IAAF awarded the 2007 world championships to Osaka, Japan, without open bidding.
Still, it raised enough eyebrows that in 2015 French prosecutors announced they had opened an investigation into the bidding process, and last June a BBC report claimed the FBI and IRS were investigating the Eugene bid.
Two weeks ago, IAAF CEO Olivier Gers was in Eugene for the first official site visit for the 2021 meet, and he was asked about the BBC report.
“It was a random story and that’s about all we know,” Gers said. “What I can tell you is we’ve been very clear with not just everyone in Oregon, but around the world, all our organizing authorities and teams, that if anything untoward happened in the bids, we will make the decisions we have to make but at this point there’s no need to worry.”