By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) – The head of world athletics Sebastian Coe says he faces a long battle to rebuild trust in his battered sport and has stepped up reform efforts after the latest allegations of bribery, extortion and doping cover-ups.
Briton Coe, who was elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in August on a manifesto promising reform, spoke of his “shock, anger and sadness” when French authorities this week placed his long-serving predecessor Lamine Diack under formal investigation on suspicion of corruption and money laundering.
“My job is very simple now and there is no ambiguity about it. It is to rebuild trust in our sport,” Coe told Reuters in a telephone interview on Sunday.
“We should not kid ourselves. It is going to be a long road. The day after I got elected as president we started the process of reforming. In the light of the allegations on Monday I have advanced that process and will be taking a package of reforms to the council in two weeks and I expect to get those through.
“But it will be a long road to redemption.”
Senegalese Diack, 82 is alleged to have received more than one million euros ($1.1 million) in bribes in 2011 to cover up positive doping tests of Russian athletes.
His son Papa Massata Diack and three others have also been charged with various alleged breaches of the IAAF’s Code of Ethics.
Diack’s family has dismissed what they described as excessive and insignificant accusations.
Despite being an IAAF vice-president for half of Diack’s 16-year reign, Coe said on Sunday that he had no inkling of any wrongdoing until the allegations surfaced this week.
“If these allegations are proven, then clearly bad people have manipulated the system and we will need a system of checks and balances to make sure bad people don’t get into those positions in future,” Coe told BBC Radio 5-Live on Sunday, the first time he had spoken publicly since news of the charges by French authorities emerged.
With Russia and fellow athletics superpower Kenya both under fire for their high number of positive tests and a wretched anti-doping culture, Coe said he did not support calls for them, or any other country, to be banned from competition.
“My instinct on this issue, while we never say never, is about engagement, not isolation, Coe told Reuters.
“That is how you enact change.”
Coe, 59, had a glorious career on the track and then a varied one off it. He has been a British Member of Parliament, a hugely successful businessman and headed the bid for and delivery of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, after which he was appointed as a member of the House of Lords.
ECHOES OF CYCLING
However, he was widely criticised for describing the Sunday Times’ August allegations that the IAAF had ignored widespread blood-doping as a “declaration of war on our sport” — a response that echoed the approach of cycling’s governing body as it closed ranks to fight off media scrutiny of doping problems.
His comments on Sunday came as one of the three co-authors of a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) into wrongdoing within athletics — to be published on Monday — said the sport is dealing with a “different level of corruption” to that which has plagued soccer’s governing body FIFA.
Richard McLaren, a Canadian law professor and sports lawyer, told the Sunday Times: “Here you potentially have a bunch of old men who put a whole lot of extra money in their pockets — through extortion and bribes — but also caused significant changes to actual results and final standings of international athletics competitions.
“This is a whole different scale of corruption than the FIFA scandal. This report is going to be a real game-changer.”
Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has been in turmoil since 14 officials and sports marketing executives, including two FIFA vice-presidents, were indicted by the United States in May.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his European counterpart Michel Platini have since been suspended while Swiss authorities investigate the Zurich-based federation’s activities. Both have denied wrongdoing.
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(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman, Mitch Phillips.; Editing by David Goodman)