Sebastian Coe, the president of world athletics’ embattled governing body, will be under further pressure on Thursday as fresh allegations are outlined of widespread corruption at the heart of the sport.
The crisis facing world athletics has grown over the past two years to the level where many consider it to be worse than the turmoil enveloping Fifa that led to the downfall of Sepp Blatter, mass arrests by the US Department of Justice and a generation of executives being implicated in a $200m-plus bribery scandal.
Dick Pound, the former president of World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), is to present the second part of his report into systemic doping in Russia and attempted cover-ups at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). He is among those who believe the scandal in athletics is worse because it “affects the results on the field of play” as opposed to “moving money around like the Fifa boys”.
In broadcast interviews before the publication of Pound’s report, which is expected to be an indictment of the role of the IAAF in the scandal, Lord Coe – who was a vice-president for seven years under the previous regime – insisted there was “no cover-up” and he had not “for one moment” regretted taking the role.
“One of the accusations is that I don’t get the seriousness of this issue. I do. I am dealing with it every day and have been dealing with this since effectively I took over as president,” he told CNN.
Last week, senior figures at the IAAF – including the son of Coe’s predecessor and the head of the anti-doping unit – were banned, along with the head of the Russian athletics federation, following an ethics commission investigation that showed in shocking detail how they had attempted to subvert the testing system and extort money from the marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova.
Since well before Coe took over in August, there has been a series of revelations linking the systemic doping in Russia, which saw the country banned from competition in the wake of Pound’s first report, to cover-ups and corruption at the IAAF’s headquarters in Monaco.
The Guardian revealed this week that Papa Massata Diack, who acted as a marketing consultant for the IAAF, had apparently sent an email to International Olympic Committee members in 2008 arranging for “parcels” to be delivered to senior IOC members, while the French newspaper Le Monde claimed he had paid $50,000 in cash to Gabriel Dolle, the former head of the IAAF’s anti-doping unit, to keep quiet about positive tests.
A large leak of documents to the Associated Press this week showed senior IAAF officials knew as long ago as 2009 that the Russian blood doping was so serious that athletes risked dying and that Diack was warned in September 2012 that 42% of Russian elite athletes were doping.
Before the press conference in Munich, Pound said: “The second report will consist of the possible criminal actions on the part of individuals, in response to the generalised claim that the IAAF did not follow up on positive test results.”
When the Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD made those claims in the summer, Coe insisted they amounted to a “war on my sport”. But he has faced a barrage of criticism over his handling of the crisis and questions about what he knew and when. The former London 2012 chairman and double Olympic gold medallist was also forced to give up his ambassadorial role at Nike after he admitted allegations of a conflict of interest had become an unwanted distraction.
After Pound presents the second report, after the first in November blew the lid on systemic state-sponsored doping in Russia, the French financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette will take the unusual step of delivering an update on an ongoing criminal investigation.
Also in November, the former IAAF president Lamine Diack, Papa Massata Diack’s father, was arrested over allegations that he accepted more than €1m in bribes to cover up doping violations. His legal adviser, Habib Cisse, and Dolle were also arrested, while French prosecutors said Papa Massata Diack, Lamine’s son who acted as a marketing consultant for the IAAF for eight years with a focus on developing markets, was told he would be questioned if he set foot in France.
Papa Massata Diack was last week banned for life from the sport and Dolle, who the Guardian revealed had stepped down from his role last year amid an ethics investigation, was banned for five years following an investigation by the IAAF’s independent ethics commission.
Coe, who delivered a glowing tribute to Lamine Diack when he succeeded him in August, calling him his “spiritual president”, has said he was shocked by the involvement of the 82-year-old Senegalese in the corruption allegations. He has argued that his role as vice-president was limited to just 10 days of active duty a year and that his focus until 2012 was entirely on delivering the London Olympics.
Much of the pressure on Coe stems from whether he should have questioned more closely the scale of the Russian doping crisis, which was being openly discussed in IAAF circles, and from his previous loyalty to Lamine Diack.
His supporters point to his role in setting up the independent ethics committee that revealed the scale of the Russian cover-up and argue, that without Lamine Diack’s support he would never have been able to win the presidency and the current situation would be even worse. Pound said in his report that the London Games was “sabotaged” by Russian doping and the participation of athletes who should have been banned.
The internal documents leaked this week to the Associated Press showed how Cisse and Dolle considered covering up Russian tests ahead of the Games.
“Our sport is a strong sport,” insisted Coe on Wednesday. “Don’t run away with the idea that I don’t know these are dark days. Of course they’re dark days.”
Pound, who also criticised Wada in his first report, is expected to recommend inquiries into the scale of doping in other countries such as Kenya and Turkey.
Renee Anne Shirley, the former head of the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission and a trenchant critic of the IAAF’s handling the issue, said it would be “interesting seeing Coe’s continued tired defence of his sport” and believed it had “lost the moral high ground”.
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