SII Focus 3rd December 2015

Analysis: Coe continues to defend IAAF and himself

Sebastian Coe, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), continued to defend his organisation and himself against allegations that they did not do enough to tackle blood doping in athletics at a three-hour Culture Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee hearing in London today. When questioned, Coe also denied that the IAAF is corrupt and appeared uncertain that his 38-year relationship with Nike – which he has now ended – represented a conflict of interest with his position as IAAF President. He also emphatically denied ever promising US$100,000 to the IAAF’s 214 member federations, despite a press release from his campaign’s internet site – since deleted – having specified this.

Coe also appeared uncertain about whether the prevalence of doping in IAAF elite athletes was 14%, as found by a 2011 study commissioned by the IAAF which used over 7,000 blood samples collected by the IAAF over a ten-year period since 2001. He also avoided questions about whether the IAAF had now approved publication of a 2011 study produced by the University of Tübingen for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which WADA and the University has accused the IAAF of blocking. This study suggested that the prevalence of doping amongst 2,163 elite athletes in 2011 may have been as high as 45%.

Blood doping and corruption

Coe described the use of IAAF blood data by ARD and the Sunday Times as “reckless”. He clarified that he had described the use of selective data against clean athletes as a “declaration of war” on his sport. “The issue that I took exception to was the very selective use of data that could not possibly be used, in and of itself, to prove positive tests”, he said today.

Coe argues that blood data pre-2009 was not reliable, as WADA only introduced its ‘Harmonized Protocols and Guidelines for Athlete Biological Passport’ in December 2009. However, as has been reported by the Sports Integrity Initiative, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld an ISU ban on Claudia Pechstein due to her blood values on 25 November 2009, before those guidelines came into force.

“If there are failures in the anti-doping systems and protocols anywhere, then the biggest losers – of course – are the clean athletes”, said Coe. “I don’t think there’s any great argument about whether athletes have been defrauded. Clearly they have.” However, he didn’t support the idea of doping becoming a criminal offence, adding that he has “a concern” about criminalising athletes, as arguments over whether the civil or criminal system takes primacy could delay the anti-doping process.

“Should we publish raw data without any context & put it into public domain?”, he asked. “Would this be risky for clean athletes? I still think it would.”

Asked why the IAAF didn’t deal with blood doping earlier, Coe – who has been Vice President of the IAAF since 2007, said that the IAAF wasn’t aware of the “specific nature of the allegations”, but he was aware of “escalation” of doping in some countries. However he also warned “it would be wrong to say that we haven’t followed up on this – we have.” As he was saying this, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) announced that charges had been levied against 26 athletes and another 39 had been placed under investigation in connection with doping. Asked if the acceptance of cheating was widespread at the IAAF, he replied “I don’t accept that”.

Coe refused to comment on whether the IAAF would take action against officials that are found to have breached IAAF rules, due to the ongoing criminal investigation against former President Lamine Diack and others. He did argue that the serious allegations had been made against former IAAF members, despite the fact that the IAAF suspended three officials for alleged corruption on Monday.

IAAF prevalence report: correct?

When questioned about whether 14% of elite athletes are doping, as found in an IAAF doping prevalence study published in Clinical Chemistry in 2011, Coe said that the numbers were “roughly” correct, but were also “slightly skewed” due to the introduction of the athlete biological passport (ABP) in 2009.

IAAF Anti-Doping Manager, Thomas Capdevielle, said that the IAAF is currently conducting a follow-up study post ABP. “That prevalence report that showed 14% actually showed that a disproportionate amount of our repetitional damage is actually being caused by a relatively small number of countries”, said Coe.

Tübingen doping prevalence report

In 2011, Tübingen University produced a report (available below) which suggested that as many as 45% of 2,163 elite athletes may have doped in 2011. The study was commissioned by WADA, which has said that the IAAF has not approved publication of the study. It appears that is still the case.

“We are still checking whether the Tübingen report uses the correct methodology”, said Coe, when questioned about whether the IAAF was blocking its publication. The CMS Committee was unhappy with Coe’s answers on this, and said that it hoped that Coe would come back with confirmation that the IAAF had cleared publication of the report.

Whistleblower protection

Coe said that he had put “on record” his thanks to whistleblowers, adding that “some of the whistleblowers came from within my own organisation”. However, whilst Coe talked about a creating a “platform” for whistleblowers, he was unclear about what that platform may look like in practice. He also said he had not met with Vitaly or Yulia Stepanov, who have had to flee Russia after making allegations about systemic doping.

The Stepanovs went public through Hajo Seppelt, who has produced a series of documentaries on blood doping for ARD. Coe said that he had asked ARD to hand over its evidence about blood doping in November 2014. However, he also denied having ever had a telephone conversation with Seppelt, despite Seppelt’s claims that Coe hung up on him. Coe admitted that he has never seen Seppelt’s August documentary which alleged that officials were complicit in helping cover up Russian doping (available in English here), but has only ever read the transcript.

FIFA Ethics Commission

Coe also seemed unable to remember being Chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee when asked if he had chaired it in 2009. “There was no Ethics Committee at that time”, he said. However there was an Ethics Committee in 2008, and Coe chaired it when it sanctioned three Kenyan officials in January 2008. The CMS Committee questioned whether Coe was the right man to lead the IAAF, given that he has been an insider at two organisations “bedevilled with corruption for many years”.

Money money money

Coe emphatically denied ever having promised the 214 IAAF member federations US$100,000 each should be take over from Lamine Diack as IAAF President. However, a press release – since deleted – issued on 24 July 2015 through his Presidential campaign did specifically promise this (see below), as this Athletics Weekly article corroborates. Coe says that he will increase the US$4 million that the IAAF spends on combatting cheating. “I will double it if I have to”.

Nike, Eugene & Doha

Coe appears to still be in denial that there was a conflict of interest regarding his relationship with Nike and his IAAF role, but admitted that he would have ended the relationship earlier if he had realised “that the noise level would get to where it did”. The sportswear manufacturer is a rival to IAAF Partner Adidas, and questions have been asked as to why the 2021 IAAF World Championships were awarded to the Oregon city of Eugene – where Nike was founded – without a bidding process.

Coe explained that the IAAF Council took a “strategic decision” to offer the 2012 Championship to Eugene after the bidding process for 2019, when the IAAF World Championships will be hosted in Doha. He said that Nike didn’t have a “direct interest” in Eugene hosting the event in 2021, but that the championship was awarded to Eugene due to the financial support package on offer, which was largely supplied through support from broadcaster NBC.

It also emerged that Athletics Kenya Vice President David Okeyo, who on Monday was suspended from his membership of the IAAF Council, is being investigated over allegations that he accepted two vehicles from Qatar in connection to Doha’s bid to host the 2019 World Championships. Coe said that the IAAF Ethics Commission is currently investigating whether Doha’s bid was “clean”.

Conclusion

The CMS Committee pointed out that the IAAF’s 38-page response to the allegations made by ARD and the Sunday Times was “entirely defensive”, and Coe’s performance in front of the CMS Committee appears to suggest that this remains the IAAF’s stance. The IAAF still refutes their interpretation of its blood data by the two media organisations, and the interpretation of the two scientists used by them to analyse the data. It continually reiterates that the data has been illegally obtained, despite similar, smaller data sets having entered the public domain before ARD’s August documentary.  It also didn’t help that journalists were told that they would not be allowed to question Coe after the hearing.

Coe has not accepted that his relationship with Nike could have been viewed as a conflict of interest, despite the fact that the IAAF is sponsored by Adidas; despite suspicions due to events being awarded to Nike’s hometown without a bidding process; and despite the fact that the IAAF Ethics Commission asked him to sign a conflicts of interest declaration before he ended his relationship with the company.

Despite Interpol investigations into former IAAF President Lamine Diack, his son Papa Massata Diack and other IAAF officials, Coe is convinced that the IAAF is not institutionally corrupt. He remains convinced of this despite the fact that the IAAF Ethics Committee suspended three officials on Monday, one of which has been accused of accepting vehicles from a country bidding to host an IAAF event, as we learnt from today’s hearing.

Coe appears unaware how perilous his position is, given that he has worked for a number of years in two organisations that have been subject to serious criminal investigations. A lot of people appear to know that the second report of WADA’s Independent Commission – due to be released next year – will contain serious allegations against IAAF management, even if Coe doesn’t, as he told the CMS Committee today. “I am happy to concede that too much power was invested in too few” was about the only admission the CMS Committee got from him that the IAAF had done anything wrong.

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