Corruption comes in many forms; but cheating Third World athletes out of their hard-earned winnings must come high on the list of low-life pursuits. But that’s what British agent/manager Ian Ladbrooke is guilty of doing, to the extraordinary amount of close to a half million dollars.
Ladbrooke, whose base is in Scotland, owes money to dozens of runners, either directly or through their managers or Athletes’ Representatives (AR) in IAAF terminology. Some of the athletes concerned are world class runners that Ladbrooke has managed in the past, like this year’s Boston Marathon winner, Caroline Kilel; or like two of the world’s current top five marathon men, Wilson Chebet and Patrick Makau. But many who are owed money are low ranking runners, for whom a thousand dollars is a lifeline that Ladbrooke has denied them, in some cases for up to five years.
To make matters worse, Kilel, who left Ladbrooke in 2009, says that he has insulted and made threats to her and husband, Vincent Chepkwony, when they have tried to approach him for payment. Chepkwony reports, “He has owed us money since 2007, and said things to us, like, ‘I don’t care,’ ‘screw you,’ and ‘go to hell’. We brought several complaints, and he told us we have to wait ‘til the IAAF pays us”.
In a follow-up email to me, Kilel herself writes, ‘I have wrote(sic) emails to AK (Athletics Kenya, the federation) complaining of my monies…the total monies are = 16000 dollas(sic). AK did all it can to help, but there was no body formed like this (Ladbrooke). There are indeed more athletes suffering from mentally and financially, from the abuses from Ian, he never cared if you are feeling any discomfort’.
Ladbrooke denies the specific allegation of insulting Kilel and Chepkwony, telling me today (Wednesday) on the phone from China, where he is working on the World Triathlon Championships, “that’s absolute rubbish, that’s not my style”.
However, Ladbrooke, who also works for England Athletics as a team manager, and race organiser, admits to “ball-park” debts of $330,000; which is bad enough, but athletes and managers I have spoken have given me figures which suggest the final sum is well in excess of his estimate.
One of the ways Ladbrooke has built up such large debts is that he has also acted as race director and/or elite athlete recruiter for some leading events around the world, like the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon in the UAE, Indian events like the Delhi half-marathon, the Mumbai Marathon and Bangalore 10K, the Lahore Marathon in Pakistan, and the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in Canada.
Ricky Simms, who also manages Usain Bolt, says, “It’s frustrating that he continues to organise events which have good prize money. We can’t afford not to send athletes. And sometimes he does pay”.
But more likely, it seems, he does not pay.
Ladbrooke’s debts go back, in some cases to 2006. Simms, for example is owed $25,000. Other leading AR’s are owed far more. Luis Posso is owed over $100,000, Federico Rosa says he is owed, “between 80 and 90,000 dollars”. Bedasso Turbo, an Ethiopan who has worked with Ladbrooke claims $92,000, Spanish AR Julia Garcia reckons over $50,000. Former marathoner Gianni di Madonna reports over $20,000, Gerard van de Veen $18,000, and Christoph Kopp $6,000. There is some duplication of debts, since van de Veen now represents Caroline Kilel, but Ladbrooke admits to 19 creditors, and I have spoken to fewer than half of them. Combined with the individual athletes he hasn’t paid, the final sum has to be in excess of the third of million dollars that Ladbrooke admits to.
Ladbrooke’s devious way of doing business is not an overnight phemonenon. According to David Okeyo, general secretary of Athletics Kenya, Ladbrooke was first banned by them as an AR in 2006, but reinstated shortly afterwards. However he was banned definitively in 2009. But such are the numbers of East African runners with no other income or prospects, who are prepared to go out on a limb or the lure of a promise from the likes of Ladbrooke, that he has always found athletes to sustain his income.
Okeyo says, “We have a big problem with Ladbrooke, we have had many complaints from athletes. He owes substantial sums. He’s not recognised as an AR, but he’s a meet director in India. How can he do this? I don’t know. We wrote to the meet organiser, but got no reply. The only body we can complain to is the (Indian) athletics federation. We didn’t get a response yet. He doesn’t deny owing the money; he just says he can’t pay until he sells a property. But he’s been saying this for some time”.
The ‘property’ in question is a house Ladbrooke claims he built in Kenya with one of his athletes, Cathreen Mutwa, who is now married to arguably the world’s number one marathoner Patrick Makau, also once managed by Ladbrooke. Creditors have been told by Ladbrooke for close to two years that the sale of the house would help clear his debts. Yet I have an email from Makau saying the house was sold three years ago, and only realised $35,000, at best a tenth of what Ladbrooke owes.
Today, Ladbrooke told me, “That’s not true, I received a letter from a lawyer, saying the house was sold in May this year, and for far more than that. I’ve instructed my own lawyer in Kenya to pursue this”.
There are similar problems with Ladbrooke in neighbouring Ethiopia. Dube Jillo, a federation official says, “We have a big problem with him. He has owed $100,000 for three or four years. Several times he has promised to do something, and does nothing. Athletes are complaining to me every day”.
Most of that money is owed to Bedasso Turbe, a local AR in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, who has worked with Ladbrooke. Since his English is not good, he has enlisted a friend, Soloman Abera to write to Ladbrooke and the organisers of several events that Ladbrooke works for. Bedasso/Abera forwarded the email to me ten days ago.
It reads, ‘All my patience made you consider me as a fool, you will see my foolishness when all these parties are aware of your failure. Till now I have showed a great patience in respect you(sic) and anticipating that as you will keep your promise…’. In a follow-up email to those parties (and myself), Bedasso wrote, ‘Mr Ian Ladbrooke has been abusing my athletes….Totally Mr Ian Ladbrooke owes my athletes $92,000’.
And it is not just African athletes who have been cheated by Ladbrooke. Russian manager Olga Chibaeva was complaining to the IAAF over two years ago. In an email dated August 9, 2009, claiming Ladbrooke owed her athletes $12,500, Chibaeva says, ‘I do not trust Mr Labrook(sic) any more. I got information that he was chitting (cheating) other athletes as well. I strongly believe that he should be disqualified by the IAAF as international manager and coach, also sent to court for the big amounts of money, that he has stolen from the runners. Please help to protect sports from the bandidas (bandits), like Mr Ladbrook’.
The lack of oversight of the running circuit at its edges, where Ladbrooke operates has created a situation that has benefited him enormously. Yet he has also nurtured friendships with people like Hugh Jones and Sean Wallace-Jones; the former a London Marathon winner in the early 1980s is now general secretary of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS) and is technical director of several of the events Ladbrooke works on; the latter is Senior Manager for Road Running at the IAAF, the international federation. In theory, both Joneses, and the organisations they represent, should be protecting athletes from the likes of Ladbrooke; in practice, association with them has given Ladbrooke a degree of credibility and respectability.
No longer, it seems.
Hugh Jones told me yesterday, “I became aware of the situation with Ian about a year ago. At first I had thought it was race organisers releasing the money late, which does happen, then I gradually realised that wasn’t the case. I’m shocked at the sums involved. I’m engaged on the technical side of these events, so it’s not an issue that affects me directly, it’s more serious for the race organisers themselves. I understand the IAAF is helping to resolve the situation now”.
Indeed they are. Of Chibaeva’s email from 2009, Wallace-Jones told me yesterday, “I addressed this situation with Ian, and he said he resolved it. When you don’t hear back from the athletes, you presume that that’s the case closed. I didn’t know the extent of these recent problems until last March/April. Since then, I’ve had literally hundreds of emails. I waited until I could sit down with Ian in Bangalore in late April, to take this up with him. It was a very tearful occasion. He realises that he’s messed up in a major fashion. And as an act of contrition, he’s trying to sort it out.
“There’s a certain degree of contestation of some of the claims, but he says he’s going to be able to pay half immediately, and the races he’s working with are going to retain a proportion of his earnings, and that’s going to go to a stakeholder, and paid out to athletes and managers.
“As long as an agreement is struck and respected, I’ll go along with it. My only concern is that the money goes to the athletes, and if I didn’t believe he was going to sort it out, I’d contact the DPP (UK Department of Public Prosecutions), because if it’s not cleared up, he’s likely to go to jail”.
That this case has come to the fore at all is largely due to Zane Branson, who manages many Kenyan athletes, and works in Europe with US-based Posso Sports; together they are owed over $107,000 by Ladbrooke. Branson finally got tired of Ladbrooke’s evasions, obfuscation and temporising. Branson writes, ‘Up until a few months ago I tried to resolve our issues amicably with Ian Ladbrooke directly, but it soon became obvious that this was not going to be possible. In addition it became apparent that many others (IAAF registered AR’s) are also having the same payment issues with him’.
It is scant mitigation to say, as one of Ladbrooke’s part-time employees once said to me, ‘Ian’s the most incompetent person I ever met’; that sentiment is echoed by John Mutai, who was managed by Ladbrooke for over a decade. Mutai left Ladbrooke earlier this year, saying that he is owed $5000. A sad and disillusioned Mutai told me by phone from Kenya last week, “He’s not straightforward. He needs to organise himself”.
Ladbrooke does not deny owing a large amount of money; but making small payments to the most vocal creditors, and making excuses to the rest has served him well for close to five years, during which time the sum has mounted. Managers’ secrecy with one another or embarrassment at failure to secure payment has benefited Ladbrooke, as have his pleas to continue working, with yet more promises to pay. As di Madonna says, “He has promised to settle this many times in the past… he’s not blackmailing me, but if we force him out, how can he ever repay us”.
Aware that moves against him were accelerating, and increasingly pressured by Wallace-Jones at the IAAF, Ladbrooke wrote an email to a score of creditors last week, saying that he was proposing to pay, ‘50% of the sum owed to you. Following this initial payment I propose to set aside the maximum possible amount of funds each month and to distribute these on a quarterly basis until such times as all outstanding debts have been cleared’. He told me yesterday that, if the managers agreed, he would set in motion the re-mortgaging of his family home in Scotland.
Even before that email, Branson had written to me, saying, ‘Ian Ladbrooke is claiming to us that he will be paying back some of the athletes’ money that he has acquired from re-mortgaging his modest family home in the UK. This is a claim he has made before along with numerous other promises, none of which have resulted in any progress.
‘The suggestion that Ian Ladbrooke will continue to work in the business as an elite athlete coordinator for about a half dozen IAAF Label races in order to work off his debts, should be questioned. I simply can’t understand how the IAAF can allow Ian to continue to work in the sport without some form of disciplinary action’.
On a personal note, I initially balked at researching this story, since Ladbrooke has in the past introduced me to a couple of events on which I have worked, furnishing a media service. But ultimately, if I had not written this, I would have been as complicit in deceit as those who have either chosen to keep quiet or who have helped Ladbrooke in his work.
When I asked this morning what Ladbrooke had done with such a huge amount of money, there was silence. He either chose not to answer, or didn’t want to tell me. He did say, “I’ve messed up, I admit it. I’ve not only embarrassed myself, I’ve embarrassed the events I work for. My focus now is on resolving this. If I don’t, Sean Wallace-Jones will be on me like a sack of cement”.
One thing a case like this clearly illustrates is that organisations like the IAAF and AIMS need to set up closer examination of the dealings of individuals who operate on the circuit. Ladbrooke is not the only miscreant manager on the marathon circuit, he’s simply the worst.
Road running used to be a marginal sport for the IAAF, yet nowadays, despite the acclaim for the World Championships in Korea, marathons and other road races are easily the IAAF’s main attraction. But lack of scrutiny of the wide-reaching circuit has left it open for people like Ladbrooke to abuse.