Three days before the Independent Commission – initiated by WADA – is scheduled to release its second report on corruption within IAAF Sebastian Coe’s governing body has published a 20,000-word manifesto which launches hope for the future.
The document, defensive but positive, coincides with a radical, inflammatory ‘manifesto for clean athletes’ released by UK Athletics, led by chairman Ed Warner, provocatively proposing abolition of all existing world records, including Usain Bolt’s. Grotesque though some women’s records are from the Eighties, the suggestion ignites an avalanche of protest from legitimate record-breakers. Warner might have been prudent to have first consulted the international governing body which, for all its problems, controls the sport.
Journalism is an impatient trade. Too often facts are not allowed to temper a fruity story. ‘Not many dead’ is not a newsworthy item for sensationhungry media when millions daily crossed the road in safety. Certainly IAAF has been in deep trouble, thanks to a handful of woefully corrupt officials – all now banished as the prime Olympic sport fights for its existence.
Yet blanket free-style condemnation continues, even embracing Coe himself as an alleged harbinger of official malfunction, including a wildly libellous weekend headline. As throughout his remarkable career, whether record-breaker or administrator, Coe holds his ground.
Stating today that “changes will ensure the recent past can never happen again”, his undaunted Road Map publication, for rehabilitation and the future, begins: “Be under no illusion about how seriously I take these issues… the Federation is under serious investigation and scrutiny. My vision is to have a sport that attracts more young people… to create a sport that people once more trust, competing on a level playing field.”
The road map aims to build that trust both in the governing body and the honesty in competition, though the proposal to create a new constitution at the next IAAF Congress in 2017 ought to be brought forward to the current year – as did the IOC in its Salt Lake scandal of 1998-99.
Richard Pound’s second expose on Thursday, almost inevitably harsh, may mount the pressure on Coe. Yet when the eminent Canadian lawyer – who was pleading unsuccessfully for the suspension off a drug-corrupt IF (weightlifting) in 1988 – suggests Coe ‘should have acted sooner as vicepresident’, Pound perhaps overlooks his own and the IOCs situation in 1988, when he was chairman of marketing and vice-president to Juan Antonio Samaranch. Were not he and the entire EB ignorant and inactive on host city voting scandals lurking within Nagano and then Salt Lake?
“The IAAF has been in an intolerably difficult position,” Coe says, “with a minority among powerful individual officials corrupting an administrative system that otherwise was one of the best among IFs, co-ordinating to the maximum with WADA. Unlike FIFA, not a single person named (as corrupt) in Pound’s Commission has not already been sanctioned. Whatever President Putin may predict, or Thomas Bach, there is no certainty that the Russian federation will be compliant in time for Rio. It’s a matter of if and when.”
While the IAAF applauds whistle-blowers’ exposure of corruption, Coe finds it a shade bizarre that Liliya Shebukhova, endemic cheat having bribed her way out of positive-test disqualification to compete in London 2012: and then, when belatedly subsequently convicted, having grassed to German TV on corrupt collaborators, now has semi-heroic status. As Coe reflects: “She had not been holding up a placard condemning cheats like Paula Radcliffe.”
Coe defends freedom of the press as vigorously as Voltaire, but considers irrational some critics – barely born when he was winning medals – who accuse him of laxity. “They forget I was driving for creation of our Ethics Committee way before the appointment of WADA’s Independent Commission.” A collective critical error in accusation of IAAF’s tawdry attention to suspicious testing, summarised by the Independent Commission, needs repeating: ‘In late 2007, IAAF adopted an Athlete Biological Passport Programme 11 months before publication of WADA guidelines… in the absence of harmonisation on data from 2001-2009, this could not withstand legal scrutiny: prosecuting an athlete based on blood data was not conceivable… Legal consensus was only reached at the beginning of 2011, since when the IAAF has been the most active anti-doping organisation for ABP.’
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.