Features 11 April 2019

IAAF Ethics Board closes case against Sebastian Coe

The Ethics Board of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has closed its investigation into whether Sebastian Coe knew about allegations that Russian athletes were being extorted in return for covering up positive drug tests prior to December 2014, which Coe denied in a letter to the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee of the UK Parliament. The Ethics Board began its investigation in September 2018, after Dave Bedford, former Chairman of the IAAF Road Running Commission, told the CMS Committee that he had sent Coe an August 2014 email (PDF below) and phoned him regarding the allegations.

‘Lord Coe’s evidence is that his PA forwarded the email with its attachments to the Chairperson of the Ethics Board and that he (Lord Coe) did not read the attachments’, reads The IAAF Ethics Board decision (PDF below). ‘The investigation did not find any evidence inconsistent with that position’.

The IAAF Ethics Board decision also considered whether Coe could have been made aware of allegations that a 2011 anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) involving Liliya Shobukhova had been covered up in exchange for money from another source. ‘The investigation found that there was no evidence to suggest that that was the case’, reads the Ethics Board decision. ‘The investigator concluded that there is no realistic prospect of establishing that Lord Coe knew more about the Shobukhova affair at the relevant time than that Liliya Shobukhova had made a complaint, and that the complaint was serious’.

The Mail On Sunday’s 2013 exposé…

This finding is surprising, given that the Mail on Sunday published a July 2013 exposé spelling out the allegations, and sent details on to the sporting bodies involved. It is also surprising given evidence published by the CMS Committee suggested that other senior IAAF officials were aware of the allegations regarding Shobukhova.

The IAAF’s Senior Manager for Road Running, Sean Wallace-Jones, gave evidence to the CMS Committee that he received communications from the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department on 12 December 2011, which suggested that there was a question about Shobukhova’s eligibility. ‘On 12 December 2011, he [colleague Imre Mátraházi] received in copy an email addressed to the IAAF General Secretary with a memorandum attached from the Director of the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department Gabriel Dollé certifying that the athlete had been tested and that no banned substances had been found’, read a report from Michael Beloff QC, head of the IAAF Ethics Board, also published by the CMS Committee (PDF below). ‘A few minutes later a further email was received asking that the previous email be ignored. The following day the General Secretary sent an email stating simply ‘Don’t Acte’ (sic.). Hearing of this I contacted David Bedford, the Race Director of the London Marathon and asked whether the WMM had already paid out the athlete as I believed that they should perhaps wait (without stating the reason); Bedford confirmed to me that the athlete had already been paid.’

Wallace-Jones met Andrey Baranov, Shobukhova’s agent, in Tokyo on 22 February 2014 who told him that Shobukhova ‘had paid half a million dollars to the Russian Federation and “a black man who comes very often to Moscow for the IAAF”; it appeared from the description that this could have been the son of President Diack, as when I asked whether it was a small man or a big large man, he replied the latter. To the best of my knowledge the only two people he could have referred to are the President’s son Papa Massata and a consulting legal counsel, Habib Cissé, but I obviously can only surmise this as unsubstantiated so far.’

In April 2014, Wallace-Jones received a Facebook message from Baranov detailing the payments Shobukhova had made to ‘a representative of the Russian federation’. The details are included in the PDF below, and further details regarding the payments are included in the second PDF below, which details Baranov’s evidence as given to Michael Beloff QC. This also details the pressure that the ‘Russian Federation’ allegedly put on Shobukhova to sign a document accepting a doping sanction.

Suspicions will persist

The Ethics Board has decided that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a case against Coe for infringing its Code of Ethics. It has not cleared him of the allegations and because of this, suspicions are likely to persist that he knew more about what was going on in Russia than he has admitted. 

Coe pictured with the Diacks and Nick Davies

This is because he was Vice President of the IAAF from 2007 before launching his Presidential campaign in November 2014, shortly before receiving Bedford’s email and shortly before a December 2014 documentary for ARD forced sport to respond to the allegations. The underlying allegation is that Coe knew about the Shobukhova situation, but distanced himself from it until he was appointed IAAF President in August 2015.

Coe has consistently argued that he knew nothing about the allegations until December 2014, when the documentary for ARD first aired. If that is the case, then he missed a July 2013 double page spread in the Mail on Sunday spelling out the allegations in detail. It also appears that a number of his colleagues were aware of the allegations, including:

• former IAAF President Lamine Diack, whom Coe has called his “spiritual President”;
• his son, Papa Massata Diack;
• his Chef de Cabinet Cheikh Thiare;
• Nick Davies, former Director of Coe’s office (now banned for life for accepting payments to delay Russian doping positives until after the Moscow 2013 IAAF World Championships);
• Habib Cissé, Lamine’s Legal Advisor;
• Valentin Balakhnichev, former IAAF Treasurer;
• Sean Wallace-Jones, IAAF Senior Manager, Road Running;
• Imre Mátraházi, IAAF Competitions Department; and
• Gabriel Dollé, former head of the IAAF Medical and Anti-Doping Department.

It would also appear that Coe misled the CMS Committee on another issue, and it would appear that he has resisted calls for his return for further questioning. He emphatically denied ever having promised the 214 IAAF member federations US$100,000 each should he take over from Lamine Diack as IAAF President. However, a press release – since deleted – issued through Coe’s Presidential campaign website on 24 July 2015 did specifically promise this, as this Athletics Weekly article and the screenshot below corroborate.

It is also odd that the Ethics Board does not appear to have asked Coe why he described the allegations highlighted by Bedford as ‘serious’ in his 14 August email to Michael Beloff QC, Chair of the IAAF Ethics Board. This description suggests that he knew something about their nature. It could be argued that this description of the allegations is inconsistent with Coe’s position that he didn’t read the attachments to Bedford’s email.

The email itself mentioned Shobukhova and Baranov in the header, so Coe may have twigged that it concerned doping, since the IAAF was aware of her ADRV in 2011. Coe also failed to mention Bedford’s email when he was questioned by the CMS Committee in December 2015. As well as emailing him, Bedford alleges that phoned Coe about the email, sent him two text messages regarding whether it was being followed up, spoke to him about arranging a meeting with Baranov, and received a text from Coe confirming that the Ethics Board knew about the allegations ‘and more’.

As such, it could be argued that despite the IAAF Ethics Board’s claims, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that not only was Coe aware of the content of Bedford’s email, but also that there is a realistic prospect of determining that he was aware of the Shobukhova situation. Whether this would constitute a violation of the IAAF Code of Ethics applicable at the time is debatable. 

Article 10 in Appendix 2 of the 2014 IAAF Code of Ethics outlines that failure to report conduct that would amount to a violation of the Code is also considered a violation of the Code, as is failure to report or delaying the report of full details of an incident that may be considered a violation of the Code. However, by referring the details to the IAAF Ethics Board, Coe arguably complied with the requirements of the 2014 Code. 

Coe with Papa Massata Diack…

As such, the only thing of which he might be considered guilty is distancing himself from the allegations in order not to affect his Presidential campaign. By claiming he was not aware of the allegations until December 2014, Coe has severed any ties to the previous corrupt administration at the IAAF, many of whom have been sanctioned with life bans and are facing potential criminal trials. Any admission that he was aware of the allegations prior to this would have implicated him as part of the cover up, and this is a charge he has so far managed to avoid.

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