Demonising Justin Gatlin
13th September 2015
Sebastian Coe has been recalled to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee of the UK Parliament, after evidence suggested he may have deliberately ignored allegations that officials were involved in extorting money from Russian athletes in return for covering up positive doping tests, in order to avoid disrupting his election as IAAF President. At a hearing today, former athlete David Bedford told the CMS Committee that he sent written evidence regarding extortion of Russian athletes to Coe in August 2014, after his evidence was apparently ignored after being received by the IAAF Ethics Committee in April. Coe did not respond to Bedford until December 2014, after ARD published its first documentary alleging that athletics officials had extorted US$450,000 from Liliya Shobukhova in return for turning a blind eye to a 2011 positive test, allowing the runner to compete at the London 2012 Olympics.
‘David Bedford gave very measured evidence, but it raised clear and important questions over the timing and extent of Lord Coe’s knowledge of these allegations and what action he took about them, especially in light of the evidence he himself gave to us in December 2015’, read a CMS Committee statement. ‘He is now free of the obligations which he claimed were preventing him returning to the Committee before, there should be no reason he cannot find a time in his diary to attend the Committee by January 31st, as we now request’.
Coe was questioned by the CMS Committee in December 2015 and indicated that he did not know anything about systemic Russian doping until ARD published its December 2014 documentary. “We were not aware – I was certainly not aware – of the specific allegations that had been made around the corruption of anti-doping processes in Russia”, he said. “I did actually say on record that I was grateful the ARD brought to the attention of our sport those particular challenges. When ARD reported their concerns, allegations and findings in November [December] 2014, I said at the time, ‘Please hand over to us what you have because this will help us understand a great deal more about the issue’. I said, ‘If you don’t trust our organisation then hand it to WADA. If you don’t trust WADA, hand it to an independent organisation.’”
If it questions Coe, the CMS Committee will attempt to determine if he knew about what was going on in Russia before December 2014. The evidence from Bedford, who Chaired the IAAF Road Running Commission, suggests that senior IAAF officials knew there were questions regarding the future eligibility of Shobukhova in December 2011. Bedford also sent Coe evidence that Shobukhova was being extorted in August 2014, when he was IAAF Vice President. The CMS Committee is keen to determine whether he wilfully ignored that evidence and if that is the case, why he did so.
Dec. 2011: Bedford is contacted by senior IAAF official, Sean Wallace-Jones, over whether a US$500,000 prize has been paid to Shobukhova for winning the 2010/11 World Marathon Majors. When questioned by Bedford, Wallace-Jones said he was asking “out of interest”, but instructs that if the money hadn’t been paid, not to pay it.
Feb. 2014: Shobukhova’s agent, Andrey Baranov, tells Wallace-Jones in a bar that he is concerned that the Russian federation is attempting to extort money from Shobukhova. Wallace-Jones tells Bedford that he wants Baranov to make a formal statement to the IAAF Ethics Commission.
Apr. 2014: Baranov is persuaded to make an official written complaint by Wallace-Jones. The official complaint, made by Wallace-Jones and countersigned by Baranov, is “biked” to Michael Beloff QC, in what would be the Ethics Commission’s first case (it was formed in March 2014). “I told him the complaint was coming”, Bedford told the CMS Committee. “He said he needed a written complaint”.
Aug. 2014: Bedford sends email to Sebastian Coe after the Ethics Commission fails to respond to his complaint. Bedford says that he felt that Coe was “somebody he could trust” within the IAAF, as he was concerned “there may have been a cover up”.
Aug. 2014: Bedford follows up email with a “short” telephone call to Coe, who was walking in mountains near Zurich with his son. Bedford asks Coe if he was aware of the allegations and Coe tells him he wasn’t. Bedford says he will email the documentation to him, as “I believe you need to see them”.
8 Aug. 2014: Bedford sends Coe an email containing the written complaint as an attachment. The email header mentions Shobukhova and Baranov.
14 Aug. 2014: Bedford sends Coe a text asking him if he had received his email. No response.
24 Sept. 14: Bedford hears that Gabriel Dollé is leaving as head of the IAAF anti-doping unit and is concerned over rumours that the “unofficial” reason for his departure is to make the situation regarding Russia less damaging for the IAAF. Bedford tells the CMS Committee that he sent the following text to Coe: ‘Hope this is not the start of a cover up?’ No response is received.
21 Nov. 14: Bedford speaks to Coe at a British Athletics Writers’ Association lunch about trying to arrange a meeting between Coe and Baranov. Bedford says Coe told him that he would “seek guidance” about whether it was “ethically right” for him to meet Mike Morgan of Morgan Sports Law, whom Bedford said he had arranged as expert legal support for Baranov.
Dec. 2014: Bedford tells the CMS Committee that he received a response from a text sent to Coe, which informed him that he was meeting the IAAF President at the time, Lamine Diack. When Bedford asks about his email, Coe apparently sent the reply: ‘Ethics Commission knows this and more’.
4 Dec. 2014: ARD publishes its first documentary alleging that athletics officials extorted money from Shobukhova in order to cover up positive doping tests.
Bedford’s evidence suggests that Coe may have deliberately ignored allegations that athletics officials were extorting money from Russian athletes in order to cover up positive doping tests. As shown in the timeline above, the header of Bedford’s 8 August 2014 email mentions Shobukhova and Baranov, and the IAAF had concerns that Shobukhova was doping back in 2011, as illustrated by Bedford’s evidence regarding his conversation with Sean Wallace-Jones.
Bedford stated that Coe has never acknowledged that he didn’t read the emails he sent to him, and stated that he had “no inkling” that Coe hadn’t read them until Coe made such a claim in June 2016. ‘He did receive an email from Dave Bedford that said “The attachments relate to an issue that is being investigated by the IAAF EC (Michael Beloff)”’, reads a 17 June 2016 statement in response to allegations made by BBC Panorama that Coe misled the CMS Committee by claiming ignorance of the allegations. ‘This was enough for Seb Coe to forward the email to the Ethics Commission. He did not feel it was necessary to read the attachments.’ The IAAF claimed that Coe’s decision to forward the emails to the Ethics Commission without reading them ‘shows a full duty of care’ by ‘ensuring the right people in the right place were aware of the allegations and were investigating them’.
The timing of Bedford’s email is crucial. It was sent in August 2014, shortly before Coe announced his candidacy for IAAF Presidency in November 2014. It mentioned Shobukhova and Baranov in the header, so Coe would have known, at the very least, that it concerned doping allegations since the IAAF was aware of Shobukhova’s potential doping in 2011, as explained above. The CMS Committee may be keen to know why Coe didn’t mention Bedford’s email when he was questioned in December 2015, and why it took six months and a BBC Panorama documentary for him to mention the email and his claim not to have read it.
Bedford told the CMS Committee that he had known Coe since he was “a young, aspiring athlete” at today’s hearing. If the CMS Committee does get the opportunity to re-question Coe, it will have to ascertain whether it is plausible that Coe ignored the advice given by Bedford in his August 2014 telephone conversation, in which he advised Coe to view the documentation that would be arriving via email. The CMS will also have to assess whether Coe took a strategic decision to stay out of the situation, given his position as an IAAF Presidential candidate and if so, whether there is anything wrong in that.
However, it appears that opportunity may not arise. ‘Today’s evidence has offered nothing new to the committee’s inquiry into ‘Combatting Doping in Sport’, read an emailed statement from the IAAF. ‘All information including the emails (attached) central to their questioning today were sent to their committee chair in June 2016 and acknowledged. Based upon this Coe has no further information he can provide to the inquiry. As we have previously confirmed Coe’s number one priority was to ensure that the right people in the right place were aware of any allegations and were investigating them. This was confirmed when his office forwarded the emails to the man Coe trusted the most, Michael Beloff QC the chair of the then recently established IAAF Ethics Commission, receipt of which Beloff acknowledged.’
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