Rio 2016 vote-buying claims denied by Olympic greats Sergey Bubka, Alexander Popov

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s bid for Chicago to host the Summer Olympics that year lost out in an IOC decision that’s now under scrutiny in a Brazilian court.

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Former Olympic pole-vault gold-medalist Sergey Bubka.

Former Olympic pole-vault gold-medalist Sergey Bubka arriving last month for an International Olympic Committee executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

AFP / Getty Images

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Olympic gold medalists Sergey Bubka and Alexander Popov are denying claims made in a Brazilian court they were paid to vote for Rio de Janeiro’s winning bid to host the 2016 Summer Games.

The International Olympic Committee said Friday its ethics commission has contacted both men about the allegation by former Rio state governor Sergio Cabral, who’s serving a prison sentence for corruption.

Cabral’s testimony Thursday echoed details of an alleged Olympic vote-buying scheme in 2009 already in the public domain.

Ongoing criminal investigations in Brazil and France have implicated Brazil’s former top Olympic official Carlos Nuzman, then-IAAF president Lamine Diack and his son and then-IOC executive board member Frank Fredericks.

Pole-vault great Bubka and swimming star Popov were IOC members voting in October 2009 in a contest among four cities, including Chicago, which under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley pushed hard to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“I completely reject all the false claims made by the former Rio State governor,” Bubka, who’s now an IOC executive board member, said in a written statement Friday. “My lawyers will write to Mr. Diack to ask him to explain the allegations of Mr. Cabral, who wrongly claims in his testimony that Mr. Diack could secure my vote.”

Popov, who is now an IOC honorary member after having full membership from 2000 to 2016, said he didn’t vote for Rio in any of the three rounds of balloting.

“I did not participate in any negotiations, and I am not familiar with the topics and with the people who are mentioned … and have never had contact with them,” the Russian swimmer said in a written statement.

Popov said he was seeking to cooperate with the IOC’s ethics investigators and joined Bubka in saying they were preparing lawsuits for defamation.

Russian Olympic swimming great Alexander Popov, then an International Olympic Committee member, in Chicago in April 2009.

Russian Olympic swimming great Alexander Popov, then an International Olympic Committee member, in Chicago in April 2009.

Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Bubka, a Ukrainian who competed for the Soviet Union, is the 1988 Olympic champion in pole vault and held the world record for 30 years, until 2014.

Popov is widely considered the greatest ever men’s sprint swimmer, winning the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle titles at back-to-back Olympics, in 1992 and 1996.

They are the latest high-profile names in Olympic circles linked to vote-buying investigations for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Japan’s most senior IOC member, Tsunekazu Takeda, resigned this year but denied wrongdoing.

Most of the evidence detailed connects Papa Massata Diack, the son of longtime IOC member Lamine Diack, to irregular payments of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Fredericks, a four-time Olympic sprint medalist from Namibia, was suspended by the IOC in 2017 after French investigators revealed he received a $300,000 payment on the day of the 2016 Olympics vote in October 2009. It allegedly came from a Brazilian businessman and was routed via Papa Diack.

Fredericks denied wrongdoing, saying the money was for consultancy work in athletics. On Thursday, Cabral told a judge he paid $1.5 million in bribes through intermediaries to Lamine Diack to secure up to six votes in the meeting of around 100 IOC members awarding the 2016 Summer Games. Cabral said another $500,000 later was paid to Diack’s son to secure three more votes for Rio.

Jailed former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral.

Jailed former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral.


Cabral repeated publicly known claims that Nuzman handled negotiations and that the money came from businessman Arthur Soares.

Nuzman is due to stand trial for money-laundering, tax evasion and racketeering. French authorities said last month they want both Diacks to stand trial on corruption charges. The elder Diack has been detained in France since 2015, and his son has evaded questioning in their native Senegal.

Fredericks faces preliminary charges of passive corruption and money-laundering.

A written statement Friday from the IOC said it is “fully committed to address any issues” with Olympic bidding, which has been reformed since 2013 when Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Games.

“With these reforms, the IOC has turned the page with regard to good governance and in particular the procedure of the election of host cities,” the Olympic body said.

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