February 19, 2018 / 11:37 PM / 6 months ago

Athletics: Eugene 2021 organizer put on leave as U.S. track chief

(Reuters) - Vin Lananna, the chief organizer of Oregon’s 2021 world athletics championships, has been temporarily placed on administrative leave as president of USA Track & Field (USATF) while the U.S. Department of Justice investigates bids by Eugene and other athletics championships, USATF said on Monday.

The decision comes after the U.S. athletics governing body said it recently learned Lananna and TrackTown USA were contacted by federal law enforcement months ago.

“USATF has no reason to believe TrackTown and/or Mr. Lananna have done anything wrong and understand that they have been told that they are not a target of the investigation,” USATF board chair Steve Miller said in a statement.

“But to avoid any conflict or appearance of conflict of interest in relation to the investigation, the board voted to place Mr. Lananna on temporary administrative leave until the Department of Justice investigation pertaining to TrackTown and the 2021 World Championships is resolved.”

Lananna, who is also the president of TrackTown USA, said he disagreed with the decision.

“To be honest, I am surprised and taken aback at the board’s decision,” he said in a statement.

“I have been committed to track and field and the members of this federation for over 40 years, and I am dedicated to continuing my service to the sport.

“I do not agree that this action was necessary.”

Board member Mike Conley, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump, will temporarily serve as USATF president.

USA Track & Field said it had learned in the last 10 days that media reports of a federal investigation into the awarding of the 2021 world championships were confirmed.

The New York Times reported last month the DOJ was exploring possible racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges related to the Eugene bid, the 2019 championships in Doha and the executives who have consulted on bids for various other competitions.

U.S. prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas in a far-reaching investigation of international sports corruption, seeking new information about some of the biggest sports organizations in the world — including FIFA, the International Olympic Committee and the United States Olympic Committee, the newspaper said.

The probe comes after French authorities said in 2015 the Eugene bid, which was controversially awarded without a bid process, was under investigation as part of a wide-ranging probe into the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s governing body.

Oregon organizers have denied any wrongdoing in landing the championships, which have never been held in the United States.

“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,” organizers said at the time.

Lananna was elected unopposed as president of USATF in 2016 and has served as president of both USATF and TrackTownUSA since.

The dual roles have concerned USATF board members over a potential conflict of interest.

Lananna has played key roles in the 2021 bid, TrackTownUSA-conducted U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene and the TrackTown Summer Series.

The board in October passed a resolution calling for Lananna not to become involved in anything that could lead to a conflict of interest.

Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina

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