Seb Coe says that he is saddened by Russia’s absence from the World Indoor Championships and insists that many athletes want the country to return in time for the Olympics.
The non-appearance of Russia’s athletes here in Oregon has been the main talking point of the week, with the British 800m runner Lynsey Sharp and the US world championship 800m bronze medallist, Brenda Martinez, among those calling for the ban to be extended beyond Rio.
However, on the first day of these championships, the IAAF president struck a more nuanced tone. “It saddens me that we’re in this situation,” he said. “I’ve fought long and hard for the rights of athletes, particularly clean athletes, so yes, it is painful. I don’t like to see clean athletes sitting out championships, but we were not left with any other alternative. We have the strongest sanction that was available to us and we do take it very, very seriously.”
The IAAF is likely to make a decision about Russia’s Olympic participation in May, but when it was put to Coe that the common view among British athletes was that time had run out for Russia to reform, he disagreed. “There’s no prevailing or uniform view on this,” he said, pointing out that he had spoken to a wide number of athletes in recent weeks. “You’ve got a real bandwidth of views.”
However, Coe did admit that the issue of athletes taking prescription drugs to improve performance might have to be more closely looked at, especially after a number tested positive for melodonium – a blood booster that was added to the banned list in January. “A big challenge is around the use of prescription drugs if there isn’t an underlying medical condition,” he said. “That’s not just a medical issue, that’s clearly a very big ethical issue as well. We’re not just looking at substances that are being specifically created for performance enhancement, we’re looking at those substances, those medicines, that are being used without underlying medical conditions.”
With many of the top track and field athletes missing from these championships, Coe conceded that something had to be done to revitalise the sport. “We need more competitions and more head to heads,” he said. “There’s just not enough to be writing about or talking about from the end of September till we sit here again in March and that’s too big a gap in the calendar.”
Coe hopes that these World Indoor Championships, the first to be held in the United States for 29 years, will also ignite more support for track and field in the world’s richest nation.
There were some encouraging signs on the opening day as a stand-alone pole vault event was attended by a full house of 7,000 fans at the Oregon Convention Centre. After three hours of competition the Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie won the men’s event with a clearance of 6.02m, a championship record, while the American Jenn Suhr won the women’s competition with 4.90m.
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