Coe Accusers Off-Target
David Miller suggests UK Government inquiry was distorted:
The tide of criticism heaped upon Sebastian Coe, IAAF’s new president, is predictable: precisely because he is one of the most triumphant and celebrated athletes in history, yet now suddenly responsible as helmsman of a seriously corrupt sport. Elected to cleanse the future, how can he conceivably be implicated, retrospectively, in IAAF’s woeful past malpractices?
In this week’s grilling by the House of Commons’ Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, it should be said that the committee substantially exceeded its remit: to investigate alleged blood doping within IAAF in as far as it involves British competitors in a publicly-funded sport.
The committee’s remit does not cover election of foreign world championship host cities – Eugene, Oregon, for 2021 – nor does it include the conduct of immediate past president Lamine Diack, whose corruption has not bureaucratically directly damaged Britain, as with say FIFA’s World Cup 2018 election.
This is not to evade that Coe has a huge task to repair an historic Olympic international federation, and has some uncomfortable questions to answer in his forensic analysis of a rotten borough. Yet many of those questions were not the business of the Select Committee. More properly, for instance, if Gothenburg feel wrongly omitted from consideration for 2021, then they should take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
A personal interest must be declared: I have known Coe since he was a teenager. We have collaborated on three books, I have repaired his spikes before a Europa Cup race in Zagreb, gave the address at his mother Angela’s funeral. I think I am able to view him objectively, knowing – as with his father Peter – his emphasis between what is right and wrong, unafraid to speak his mind. Once, when asked rhetorically as a young athlete, by the chairman of the then British Amateur Athletic Board over a disputed race schedule, “do you not know who is the chairman?”, Coe archly replied: “No – but if you ever find out, do let me know”. Some of that mettle was evident in his responses to the Select Committee’s interrogation.
The prime distinction which the committee failed to make – and likewise media who, scenting a supposedly wounded prey, hungrily closed in for the kill of a formerly beautiful beast – is that the IAAF, however inappropriately in a modern commercial and professional era, is effectively still an amateur organisation of elected voluntary committee members.
As I have witnessed so often during sixty years observing sports administration, calamitous misjudgements in tennis, boxing, rugby, football or wrestling, within the ponderous committee formula, take years to correct… or to elect better officials. Sports federations are not like hospitals, train companies, banks or county councils, where the incompetent can be sacked overnight.
It is rampant hypocrisy for the committee to accuse Coe of “lack of curiosity” about misdeeds while he was vice-president, when currently within the Conservative Party there exists the cover-up scandal of career threats and sexual harassment by an activist bully who has belatedly been banned for life.
To have drawn analogy between Coe’s “inactivity” and the BBC’s infamous reluctance to investigate known criminal behaviour by a horrendous paedophile was shamefully underhand.
In an era when Britain has surrendered much of its former influence in international sport administration, Coe’s appointment should be championed. Had he lumbered around as suspicious investigator, the prospect of his being elected to succeed Diack would have evaporated. The cleansing would now be in the hands of Ukrainian Sergei Bubka… who has a contract with Nike and also voted for Eugene. The Select Committee should get real.
In the matter of Coe’s alleged negativity, during a long and careful election campaign – alliances are forged over many years – a majority of the hostile press, and notably the British, are as uninformed as the Select Committee: never ‘worked the circuit’, have never talked strategy with Coe, metaphorically would not know a steeplechase from an egg-and-spoon race. Yet Coe’s attitude towards the media is Voltaire’s: defend to the hilt their democratic option to publish what they think. If in the process they torpedo relations for the future, that is their problem.
Gothenburg, previous world championship hosts in the nineties, had no substantive case for 2021 beyond exploratory conversation. The bid was hypothetical. The IAAF Council, having elected Doha for 2019 on legitimate financial merit – ignore the question of Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022: Doha staged an impresssive Asian Games in 2006 – there was valid incentive for an impromptu vote for Eugene, the might of US Athletics never having hosted a championships. The vote was 23-2, initiated off the cuff by Diack.
There are other council members besides Bubka who have financial ‘advisory’ deals with sportswear companies, such as Adidas: normal for unsalaried officials without their integrity being compromised. When Coe chaired the Evaluation Commission for the 2019 host survey, he did not just ‘declare’ his Nike interest, he first cleared his activity with Michael Beloff, prominent lawyer for CAS.
Regarding the issue of “suspicious blood tests” revealed by the Sunday Times, the Independent Commission immediately appointed by WADA stated that the interpretation by ‘experts’ was open to question and unreliable, with damaging inference for clean athletes such as Paula Radcliffe. Had Coe visibly pursued Sunday Times whistle-blowers living in hiding, his election prospects would have been punctured. Not trusting his colleagues? He would not have now earned the opportunity to wrestle with the past in order to rescue the future. Having advocated life-ban for drug cheats when first addressing the IOC as Olympic champion in 1981; having devoted nine years to winning London’s bid for 2012, and then masterminding its exemplary preparation; and having never personally involved himself in a single financial contract in London seven years’ preparation, Coe might well consider to be insulting the sulphuric question by leading television presenter Jon Snow: Had Coe been asleep or corrupt as vice-president?
Coe spent much of his track career confounding critics. He now shoulders the necessity of proving them wrong once more, this time not for himself but for the salvation of his sport. Summoning for cross-examination the national hero from the House of Lords, the committee from the House of Commons, several with Oxbridge backgrounds, academics mostly following honourable but comparatively anonymous professional careers… might they possibly, with a trace of envy, just have been playing Cain against Abel? Svein Arne Hansen, Norwegian president of European Athletics, puts his finger on reality. “When you are behaving covertly, you don’t share your activities with colleagues,” Hansen reflects. “There has effectively been a dictator – nobody knew what was going on. We all believe that Seb is the man to take the sport forward.”
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.