By Patricia Zengerle
LONDON — Lamine Diack, the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations who organised the 1999 world championships in Atlanta, died on Friday after a long illness. He was 88.
“We lost a leader and a very great man,” Japanese athletics federation president Akira Nagai told Reuters.
Diack was president of the IAAF for 24 years until 2013.
During his time in office, he presided over a remarkable era for athletics, including several Olympics. In 1988, he helped broker a deal with the US Olympic Committee to hold the Barcelona Olympics outside Europe and, in 1996, with Seoul.
As president, he battled doping allegations but was ultimately cleared by a series of investigations.
Diack was the man who helped form the IAAF Council in 1981 and the president from 1983 to 2013.
“Lamine Diack was an extraordinary man, always ready to help and wish a better future for all,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe said.
“Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”
IAAF council members expressed their shock and sadness at the news.
“My deep sorrow for the death of a true gentleman and gentleman in the sport I dearly love,” Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt said on Twitter.
“Just terrible sad news. What a wonderful, kind, diplomatic individual Lamine Diack was. I know many of the athletes loved him and admired him. RIP,” double Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva, a Russian, said on Twitter.
American 400 metres hurdler Aries Merritt, a former world champion and world record holder, was also saddened by the news.
“He was very kind. Like a grandfather figure to everyone,” Merritt told Reuters.
“I was in the 2004 Olympics and got the medal. The athletes and the fans loved him. He was a people person. That’s what people will remember him for.”
The Frenchman, who was admired by the sport’s top stars, helped the IAAF overcome allegations of corruption with a series of reforms.
They included stricter codes of conduct and tougher punishments for those found guilty of a variety of doping offences.
He took responsibility for the validity of his athletes’ medals at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Diack resigned in November 2013, citing health reasons, but remained an honorary member of the IAAF.
In September last year, French investigators investigating widespread corruption around the hosting of the 1999 world championships in Japan charged him and Valentin Balakhnichev, the former head of the Russian athletics federation, with corruption and money laundering.
Balakhnichev died in November after a short illness.
Diack agreed in 2016 to be questioned by French authorities as part of a probe into allegations of blackmail and money laundering connected to a blackmail agreement from 2006 to 2008.
Balakhnichev and Diack denied any wrongdoing when the charges were first laid in 2015.