Profiles 27 January 2016

Out of the frying pan…interview with Ed Warner

UK Athletics (UKA) has found itself flung into the media spotlight recently, and not for the athletic performance reasons that its bosses might hope. Following scandals in cycling, football, athletics and now tennis, that spotlight remains firmly focussed on what measures can be taken to tackle and, ultimately, eradicate corruption from international sport.

UKA’s Chief Executive, Ed Warner, has had a hectic fortnight. Firstly, UKA published its ‘Manifesto for Clean Athletics’, which contained 14 points – or, as Warner would prefer, suggestions – on how to reform athletics so that the athletes and the public can once again enjoy clean athletics. Secondly, he was grilled by the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Select Committee, which was keen to know why he hadn’t reported allegations of corruption around the bidding process for the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships to the relevant authorities.

2017 World Championships rumours

“I had more than one person telling me that they were hearing these rumours in November 2011, when we were in Monaco for the bid”, said Warner, who spoke to the Sports Integrity Initiative the day before the CMS Committee hearing. “In the last few days, since I went public on the radio about it, I have been in dialogue with the IAAF and I understand that there will now be an investigation by their Ethics Commission, which I hope will get to the bottom of all of this pretty swiftly”.

Warner told BBC Radio 5 Live that that night before the bid, “a very senior person in the IAAF hierarchy told me and my bid team that they understood certain members of the IAAF Council were being called upstairs, one by one, to a hotel suite to be given a brown envelope”. At the CMS Committee hearing he argued that he did not report the rumours at the time, as they “seemed incredible”, however with the “benefit of hindsight” he ought to have reported them sooner.

On 7 January, the IAAF Ethics Commission banned Papa Massata Diack, son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, for life. Since April 2014, the IAAF had been investigating Papa Diack, who acted as a marketing consultant for the IAAF, over various allegations that included requesting US$5 million during Doha’s failed bid for the 2017 World Championships, which UKA will bring to London. Senegal has refused to extradite Papa Diack, reports the BBC, despite Interpol issuing a ‘red notice’ naming him as an internationally wanted person.

It is not only the 2017 bidding process that appears to be tainted. The IAAF is investigating ‘a prima facie’ case that Qatar gave two vehicles to Athletics Kenya President Isaiah Kiplagat in connection to its bid to host the 2019 World Championships, which Qatar will bring to Doha. The IAAF Ethics Commission announced the investigation in the same media release which detailed the suspension of Kiplagat for 180 days, pending further investigations into allegations of corruption.

Warner also admitted that IAAF President Sebastian Coe – who in 2011 was IAAF Vice President and part of the 2017 bid team – gave the green light to spend an extra $7.2 million to cover prize money for the Championships. The money was requested by the IAAF as an “extra payment” in order to draw the bid team level with Doha, which had promised it to the IAAF. “His [Coe’s] advice was that would be a major swing factor in our favour”, Warner told the CMS Committee.

Warner said that should the IAAF Ethics Commission conclude that any wrongdoing has taken place, then he would instruct lawyers to try and recover the money. “Of course”, he said. “I think that the first step is for the Ethics Commission to do its job. Let’s see what they find. If they find nothing, or if it’s found to just be unsubstantiated rumours, then in many ways that’s good news for the integrity of the sport. If there’s anything more significant than that, then obviously we would take action.”


Warner insists that UKA’s Manifesto for Clean Athletics has gone down well. “I spoke to the IAAF over the weekend and we now have about a dozen manifestos from different federations around the world, all with different ideas and suggestions” he said. “It seems to me that we’ve achieved our principle purpose, which was to get sport to start looking forwards at ways in which it can secure its integrity and to ensure that the public can really believe in what they are watching. We wanted to create as much debate as possible, and that seems to be the case.”

Warner says that many of the issues picked up in the media were just suggestions designed to do exactly what they did – stimulate debate. He argues that UKA did not suggest that all world records be wiped, merely that athletics ought to look at ways of removing world records that might have been tainted by doping.

“The Manifesto says that we’re calling for a debate into these matters and looking at all the possibilities, not dictating what should be done”, he said. “What we’re saying is let’s talk about these things. It’s interesting that Paula Radcliffe has come up with an alternative suggestion, which is that if you’re ever convicted of a doping offence, you should have all world records in your name expunged.”

“I think that if we get heads together, we can find ways between all of us to clean up the record books”, continued Warner. “Seb Coe has said that he’s always been in favour of striking out those records that are clearly wrong. If the IAAF can find a way to do that, I’d applaud them. Let’s deal with the world shot-put record, held by Randy Barnes. That record goes back to 1990. He was subsequently banned for life. I don’t think it’s right that the record should stand, as no athlete of today can go anywhere near the distance that he threw in 1990. There are some inequities and these things need to be looked at.”

Warner also says that UKA doesn’t support the idea of criminalising doping, which the UK government is considering following Germany in doing. “What we’re talking about is not criminalising the athletes, but measures to take out the supply chain”, he said. “I think that needs to be looked at. If you focus purely on the athletes, then you don’t get to the heart of the problem and as we’ve clearly seen with the BALCO affair, some of the athletes were to some extent unwitting pawns in the game. You’ve got to get to the source.”

UKA has begun a dialogue with UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) about the feasibility of some of the suggestions in its Manifesto, which UKAD said it hadn’t seen until it was published.

Extended bans

Another aspect of UKA’s Manifesto which caught the public eye was its proposal to extend doping bans to eight years for a ‘serious’ doping offence, such as intentional cheating – although intent is notoriously difficult to prove. “What we’re really looking for is for two Olympic Games to be missed”, explained Warner. “Eight years covers that. It could just as easily have been five years, but the important thing is to take an athlete out two of those pivotal events, to be sure that the punishment really does fit the crime.”

“If you look at financial services, for example, or the medical profession, you can be banned for life for one serious offence”, continued Warner. “Why should that be any different in sport? I’ve heard all sorts of arguments in favour of leniency, but at the same time, I do think that there is a duty of care to look after the majority of athletes who are clean and the spectators who are watching them and expect sport to be clean.”

In the CMS Committee hearing, Warner took this further, outlining plans to ban athletes ever caught doping from representing Great Britain before the World Indoor Championships, which take place in Portland, Oregon, in March. Warner said that such an agreement had “never been tested”. However, in 2012, the British Olympic Association (BOA) was forced to scrap its lifetime ban for doping. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had challenged it (2011/A/2658) at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) using an earlier ruling (2011/O/2422), in which the CAS ruled that an International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to ban athletes who have been sanctioned for doping from the next edition of the Olympic Games was ‘invalid and unenforceable’.

Biological passports

In order to level the playing field, the UKA Manifesto also suggested that athletes competing at World Championships or the Olympics could be required to hold an Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). “What we have proposed is that for the top ten nations, all their athletes competing in the Olympics or a World Championships should have a biological passport”, clarified Warner. “Kenya would certainly be included in that. There is then a duty on the IAAF to ensure that there is sufficient funding in place to support nations that might not otherwise be able to afford it. If the IAAF wants Kenya at the top table – which it certainly should do given the standard of their athletes – then it needs to work with them to provide the funding to make sure the passport is in place.”


It is perhaps an unfortunate coincidence that Adidas is considering pulling its sponsorship of the IAAF shortly after President Sebastian Coe ended his relationship with Nike, following allegations that Nike’s hometown state of Oregon appeared to have been awarded an unusual number of IAAF Championships. However it doesn’t look good, and France’s Financial Prosecutor is investigating. Other IAAF partners are also understood to be considering their position. UKA is sponsored by Nike and arguably its most famous athlete, Mo Farrah, is coached by Alberto Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project, which has faced doping allegations.

However, Warner is happy for British athletes to be associated with the Nike Oregon Project and is happy for any British athlete to be associated with the company. A recent review cleared UKA staff of any wrongdoing in relation to its engagement with the Nike Oregon Project – which is just as well, seeing at the company is signed up to sponsor UKA until 2020.

“That was the purpose of our review – to see whether there was anything untoward whatsoever involving our athletes and nothing was found”, said Warner. “We wait upon the outcome from USADA [US Anti-Doping Agency], and there has to be a presumed innocence until any evidence is laid out that would suggest otherwise. All I’d wish for is a swift conclusion to that by USADA and whatever the conclusion is, we will act accordingly. We’ve made a commitment to USADA not to say any more about their investigations, however we do want a conclusion and we do want it swiftly.” Warner said that USADA has not given UKA a completion date for its review, however he understands from media reports that it will be completed in March.

Down the rabbit hole

To describe 2015 as a turbulent year for athletics seems like a massive understatement, but suitable adjectives are hard to find. Explosive? Watershed? Nothing seems to fit – perhaps because even the wildest cynic could not envisage the depths of corruption that appear to have occurred in athletics. Nobody knew except an inner circle at the IAAF, and questions are now being asked now are about how encompassing that circle was.

Did national associations other than Russia know what was going on at the IAAF? Did UKA know? At the CMS Committee hearing, Damian Collins MP was unequivocal in his criticism of Warner over his failure to report the allegations. “In a small way, Mr. Warner, you are part of the problem in the IAAF”, he said. “Because if there are very senior people like you, who are aware of wrongdoing, who are not actually checking or following up on whether there is any investigation into that wrongdoing, you are effectively part of a conspiracy of silence and corruption in world sport”.

At the very least, Warner’s admissions shows that both he and Coe were aware that requests were being made by the IAAF outside of the normal procedures in bidding to host a World Championships. Warner’s admissions also cast doubt on Coe’s claims that he knew nothing about corruption during his tenure as IAAF Vice President from 2007, since he appears to have given the green light to large payment outside of the bidding procedure. This would tie in with the findings of the WADA Independent Commission, which concluded that senior IAAF staff were aware of ‘imbedded’ corruption.

Collins’ vitriol over Warner’s refusal to name names is perhaps understandable. Given what we know about embedded corruption at the IAAF, he is concerned over whether keeping the disciplinary procedures inside the IAAF is the right thing to do.

Qatar, of course, also won the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. FIFA has so far resisted calls for a new investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. It seems unlikely, but perhaps the allegations of corruption in the bidding process for the IAAF World Championships could change its mind, given that the same country is involved.  In a 13 November 2014 statement on the findings of a 350-page report penned by Michael Garcia, it found ‘that the potentially problematic facts and circumstances identified by the Report regarding the Qatar 2022 bid were, all in all, not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole’. Garcia later resigned over FIFA’s refusal to publish his report in full.

Athlete perspective

Warner is confident that, at present, athletes still have confidence in UK Athletics, however the Manifesto for Clean Athletics did not please everyone. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, former long-jump world record holder Mike Powell was furious about the proposals. Others were more measured in their response. The idea of wiping records appears to have been resoundingly rejected as punishing clean athletes. However, if the aim was to start a debate, the Manifesto has been an unqualified success.

Warner questions whether athletes are disillusioned. “I think they’re exasperated”, he said. “To some extent, they’re pleased that things they have suspected for a while have come out of the woodwork. They will want to see decisive action by the IAAF, such as the return of prize money that athletes have been cheated out of. That’s one of the things that we call for.”

“I think that if we end up with a better anti-doping regime globally, then athletes would be delighted with that”, continued Warner. “I can’t believe that athletes wouldn’t trust UK Athletics, because we’ve been standing up and shouting on the behalf of clean athletes and I’m proud of the work that we do in anti-doping education with our athletes; we’re pleased of what we see of the work of UKAD. We’re standing up for clean athletes and clean athletics. That resonates with British athletes.”

It is perhaps too early to tell what the impact of this extraordinary year will be on athletes themselves. If just one elite athlete withdraws through disillusionment with the sport, that would create huge shockwaves and could provide the stimulus for real change. Warner perhaps ought to be applauded by being upfront and throwing himself into the fire. He now needs to continue being open and honest in order to douse the flames that are currently engulfing his sport.

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