By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Sebastian Coe has long been one of the most outspoken critics of doping in athletics yet the newly-elected president of the sport’s governing body has remained silent this week in the face of potentially its most damning drugs scandal yet.
Coe, in the top IAAF job for less than three months, is facing his sport’s second major doping controversy in the period, the most recent of which was labelled “worse than FIFA” by his former British athletics team mate Daley Thompson.
Coe’s predecessor Lamine Diack and the IAAF’s former doping chief Gabriel Dolle are under investigation over allegations that they accepted massive bribes to cover up positive doping tests.
While the world reels in the face of yet another shocking indictment of sports maladministration, however, Coe has yet to utter a word on the matter.
Despite repeated attempts by Reuters and others asking Coe to comment, he has declined.
A coincidence of timing meant that an interview he gave to Britain’s Daily Telegraph appeared on Thursday, a day after the news of the Diack investigation was released by French authorities.
“The crowds have to know that what they are watching is genuine. Parents have got to know that they are encouraging their children to go into a sport where they will not be harmed,” Coe said. “We will not shy away from this.”
One of the four “pillars” of his presidential election manifesto was: “Ensuring integrity and trust in everything we do”.
The double Olympic 1500 metres champion pledged that the newly created IAAF ethics Commission would make them the “outstanding Olympic federation in the field of integrity.”
While he cannot be held accountable for the actions of his predecessor and his son — who has left his IAAF role while under investigation — or the other IAAF officials in the spotlight, Coe’s silence is not going down well in the sport.
“We said when Seb Coe took over that the first 100 days would define his tenure. And these latest developments, if they are true…I don’t think anything much worse could happen to the sport than for the former president to have colluded with the Russian Federation over doping tests,” former Olympic and world decathlon champion Thompson told Talksport Radio.
“This to my mind is a 10 or 11 on the Lance Armstrong scale. This is much worse that what Sepp Blatter has been doing.
“Obviously, this has not happened on Seb Coe’s watch. But he needs to have a root and branch reform…maybe he needs to make a stand and say what he’s going to do about it.”
Days before he was elected, Coe had to deal with allegations that athletes had been escaping censure despite having abnormal blood levels.
Although the science behind the claims was complicated and far from conclusive evidence of further widespread doping, Coe immediately drew comparisons with cycling during its worst years when he said: “It’s a declaration of war on my sport.”
Media attempts to expose the doping culture of cycling during the last 20 years were routinely beaten back by the sport’s governing body on exactly that raising the drawbridge approach.
Not until judicial authorities became involved was the breadth of doping and its cover-ups by Lance Armstrong and others finally exposed.
Coe also attracted criticism for dismissing the bona fides of the respected scientists used by the Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD to investigate the suspicious blood values.
“These so-called experts — give me a break,” he said. “I know who I would believe.”
Tony Minichiello, the coach of Olympic and world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, is another who is sceptical.
“I’ve lost faith in the IAAF. I’ve questioned previously the IAAF’s ability to clean its house and give any credibility to move forward” he told the Independent.
“Have we seen any changes under Lord Coe? No.
“I genuinely don’t know if he’ll do it, particularly in light of that ‘declaration of war’ comment.”
Coe, however, did get support from his homeland, in the form of Ed Warner, chairman of UK Athletics.
“If ever Seb ever truly wanted to prove himself, now’s his chance,” Warner said.
“He has all the necessary credentials and I’m convinced that had he at any time been aware of corruption within the organisation then he would have blow the whistle.”
Reports on Friday said Coe had cancelled the IAAF’s glitzy Monaco athlete of the year gala this month but nobody in the organisation would confirm it.
The federation’s website looked as shiny and upbeat as normal with previews of the gala sitting alongside pictures of Coe’s recent trip to Russia, but not a word on the Diack charge or any of the other unrest swirling around the sport.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)