Golden boy Coe to battle through sleepless nights
MONACO: Sebastian Coe likened winning the IAAF presidency to the joyous birth of his four children. His opening steps in track and field’s top job could easily be described as the equivalent of a month of sleepless nights running after fractious babies. It has been nothing but a blunt and challenging introduction to the vagaries of top-level sport administration for Coe, working 18 hours a day in a firefight for track and field. The 59-year-old Briton was thrust fully into the unforgiving spotlight to deal with doping in Russia, allegations of systemic corruption against the man from whom he took over, Lamine Diack, as well as claims of conflict of interest because of his lucrative ambassadorial role with US sportswear giant Nike.
Following the revelations surrounding Diack, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s independent commission produced a bombshell report with evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Coe, who has always been outspoken against doping and vowed a “zero tolerance” when he was named president, was quick to act, temporarily banning Russia. The Briton on Thursday also stepped down from his Nike role, at the cost of £100,000 a year, and vowed he was the man to turn around track and field. WADA’s independent commission report’s co-author Dick Pound, a former WADA president, and IOC president Thomas Bach have both defended Coe as the man to lead athletics out of its darkest hour.
With Coe seemingly never out of the crosshairs of an ever-demanding British press, the IAAF has taken to publishing daily “frequently asked questions” of the press in a “continued effort to be as transparent as possible and to ensure that the public have the same access to the information that the IAAF provides the media”. Upon being elected IAAF president in August, having beaten Ukrainian pole-vault great Sergey Bubka 115-92 in a tight vote, Coe pledged to maintain “the very highest level of vigilance” with regard to doping.
With WADA having accused the IAAF of being “inexplicably lax” in their approach to doping, at a time when Coe was the organisation’s vice-president, they are words that have quickly come back to haunt him. And they are not the only ones. Coe described Diack as his “spiritual leader”, only for the 82-year-old Senegalese to be arrested by French police over claims he took 1 million euros ($1.1 million) in bribes to cover up positive drug tests. When media reports emerged that the IAAF had turned a blind eye to hundreds of suspicious blood tests, Coe very ill-advisedly branded the claims a “declaration of war” on athletics.
To date, Coe has generally avoided opprobrium over his spell as the chairman of FIFA’s ethics commission, despite the avalanche of corruption accusations that has tumbled down upon world football’s governing body in the years since he left. But he has done well to sever his ties with Nike, for whom he was a global ambassador, in light of the American sport giant’s continued backing of drug cheat Justin Gatlin and allegations of doping leveled at Nike’s Oregon Project running camp in a recent BBC documentary. The day-to-day crises are all a far cry from his days as the poster boy of British athletics during the 1980s, when his fierce rivalry with countryman Steve Ovett made him one of the most well-known figures in the sport.
The articulate Coe won Olympic gold in the 1500m at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, as well as two silver medals in the 800m, and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records in middle-distance track events. His achievements in politics and sports administration have been every bit as stellar, with highlights including a five-year stint in Britain’s parliament and a stunning success as head of the 2012 London Olympics. It means that for all his current tribulations, he continues to enjoy strong support from within the athletics community, but his reputation will now hang on his ability to see through the decisive action he seems intent on instigating. — AFP
International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe