Lamine Diack, once one of the most influential men in Olympic sport, has been ordered to stand trial in France for his alleged role in a system of corruption, extortion and doping cover-ups during his reign at the top of athletics.

Diack was head of the IAAF for nearly 16 years. Arrested in France in 2015, he will be tried on charges of corruption, influence-trafficking and money laundering, a French judicial official said yesterday.

The money-laundering charge alone carries a potential jail term of up to 10 years. The 86-year-old Diack has been under orders to stay in France since his arrest. The trial date has not been fixed but is not expected before next year.

Also ordered to stand trial was one of Diack's sons, Papa Massata Diack. He has emerged as a central figure in French judicial probes of suspected corruption involving the 2016 and 2020 Olympics and other sports events. Diack will stand trial for complicity in corruption and money laundering. Believed to be living in Senegal, he could be tried in absentia. At France's request, the international police agency Interpol has issued a wanted notice for him.

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As IAAF president, Lamine Diack presided over an era when Usain Bolt, in particular, made track and field increasingly popular. But Diack's legacy and the IAAF's credibility took a beating after he stepped down in 2015, replaced by Sebastian Coe, with his arrest and subsequent revelations of athletes being blackmailed and of doping cover-ups.

At least half a dozen athletes are thought to have been told that their suspected doping could be hushed up, allowing them to continue competing, if they paid up. The head of France's financial prosecution service alleged that Diack pocketed more than €1 million ($1.72 million) from the alleged cash-for-silence scheme. The French prosecution service has become extremely active in going after suspected corruption in sports, using its broad powers to investigate marquee events, including the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

Investigators for the World Anti-Doping Agency concluded in 2016 that Diack and his sons, hired during his reign as IAAF consultants, formed a "powerful rogue group" within the governing body. Their report claimed Diack was "responsible for organising and enabling the conspiracy and corruption that took place in the IAAF. He sanctioned and appears to have had personal knowledge of the fraud and extortion of athletes."

Evidence from Wada triggered the launch of the French probe of Diack and his associates. French investigating magistrates overseeing the investigation have also ordered trials for Valentin Balakhnichev, a former IAAF treasurer, and Alexei Melnikov, a coach who led Russia's long-distance running programme.

They, too, could be tried in absentia because Russia generally refuses to extradite its citizens. Balakhnichev will be tried for corruption and money laundering; Melnikov for corruption.

- AP