S'pore official set to help tackle claims of doping and corruption in athletics

S'pore official set to help tackle claims of doping and corruption in athletics
Ms Annabel Pennefather, chef de mission for the Singapore contingent at the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar, delivering her end-of-Games report at a media conference at the Thingaha Hotel on Dec 22, 2013.
PHOTO: BH, Tukiman Warji

Within hours of her appointment, Annabel Pennefather learnt quickly what the hot seat as part of the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) ethics commission feels like.

And while she was not part of the panel that yesterday ordered life bans on three figures allegedly associated with the doping scandals that have embarrassed athletics' world governing body, she knows the months ahead of her could involve similarly big decisions.

The 67-year-old was announced yesterday as one of two additions to the commission, the first Singaporean to earn this appointment. Together with South Africa's Catherine O'Regan, with whom she was appointed for a four-year term, they are the only women on the nine-member commission chaired by Briton Michael Beloff.

Congratulatory messages were not the only thing that kept her phone buzzing all night yesterday - Pennefather was also already in touch with her colleagues on the ethics commission.

She told The Straits Times: "I really appreciate the trust and confidence of those who put forward my name and appointed me, but I'm also aware of the challenges."

At the centre of these issues: A series of corruption and ethics cases that have already led to an indefinite suspension of Russia from the IAAF.

Having been both an athlete and a sports administrator - she was a national hockey player and also served as the International Hockey Federation's (IHF) vice-president - Pennefather said she felt it was time to take up a different responsibility.

Said the head of the sports law practice at Withers KhattarWong: "I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel that I could contribute. I have a sports law background, I've already sat on tribunals, I know what is expected.

"Clearly, it is challenging times (for athletics)... (but) you have to start somewhere. If you want change and you can do something, you should be willing to be part of that change."

Yesterday, the ethics commission Pennefather is now a part of ordered life bans on former IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev and Papa Massata Diack, a son of former IAAF president Lamine Diack over bribes taken to cover up doping failures by Russian athletes. Former Russian coach Alexei Melnikov was also given a life ban, while former IAAF anti-doping doctor Gabriel Dolle was handed a five-year ban.

In announcing the bans, the commission said: "Any lesser sanction would not meet the gravity of their offences."

Balakhnichev, however, have slammed the decision as a "clearly politicised" one.

Pennefather, who is also vice-president of the Singapore National Olympic Council and deputy president of the IHF judicial commission, knows her first assignment could come as soon as next week.

The World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) independent commission is due to release a report on Jan 14, the second instalment of findings that plunged the IAAF into crisis at the end of last year.

Wada's commission, chaired by its former president Dick Pound, is expected to present findings concerning allegations of widespread doping in international athletics, while conduct that may be of a "criminal nature" and contrary to Wada code rules have also been suggested.

On the challenges ahead in her new role with the IAAF, Pennefather said: "I just hope that we will have outcomes that will help resolve some of the issues that the IAAF are facing at the moment.

"I want to make the most of this opportunity, and in my own way, fly the Singapore flag."

maychen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 8, 2016.
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