To clean up track and field, Seb Coe too must go

IAAF President Sebastian Coe (IAAF photo)

IAAF President Sebastian Coe (IAAF photo)

When the other size 20EEE clodhopper drops in the international track and field doping and corruption scandal Thursday, let’s hope somebody quickly puts the shoe back on to boot the entire compromised leadership of the sport’s global governing body, the IAAF.

That would necessarily include the federation’s new president, Sebastian Coe of Great Britain, whose vow he can be part of the solution means less because he did not see how he was part of the problem and apparently still doesn’t fully grasp it.

The evidence of IAAF sleaze expected to be made public Thursday in the second half of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s independent investigative commission report is likely to be more than enough to mandate a complete housecleaning.

To use a venerated American catchphrase: Throw the bums out.

Or, to use the label that commission chair Richard Pound applied to the miscreants in an interview with the Times of London last week: Throw the “scumbags” out.

The International Olympic Committee should take over management of the IAAF for as long as it takes to get a completely new leadership team and management group in place.

And, yes, some good people will suffer for this.

In no way am I suggesting that Coe – or Lord Coe, as the British press deferentially (and almost ironically) calls him while it unearths more and more damaging stories about the organization he heads – is either a scumbag or a bum.  And it seems very unlikely the WADA commission report will link Coe to the corruption in any way.

But the magnitude of this scandal is so great that anyone like Coe who has been part of IAAF leadership while it took place – and seemingly did nothing to stop it – simply must be shown the door.

That this story has barely resonated in the United States, outside the shrinking group of people who still love track and field, means it is easy to underestimate its magnitude.

Track and field has always been the fundament of the Olympics.  No sport other than soccer is practiced more widely worldwide, from kids running to decide who can reach the big tree first to Usain Bolt doing it with hundreds of millions watching.  Now its very competitive credibility is at stake.

This is worse than the IOC’s bribes-for-host-city-votes scandal.  Worse than the international soccer federation (FIFA) bribes-for-commercial-opportunities scandal.

Former IAAF President Lamine Diack of Senegal (Doha Stadium Plus Qatar photo)

Former IAAF President Lamine Diack of Senegal (Doha Stadium Plus Qatar photo)

Why?  This one involves bribes and blackmail for doping cover-ups, which means athletes competed when they should have been banned.  Such sanctioned cheating undermines the presumed integrity of what happens on the playing field, and it is even more nefarious than the cheating accomplished by the actual act of doping or the actions of the state-run doping systems that abetted it (see the charges against Russia in part 1 of the WADA report, released last November.)

Richard Ings, former head of the Australian Anti-Doping Agency and now an executive at the text-to-speech company ReadSpeaker, has no doubt which behavior is the most contemptible.

“Put it in perspective,” Ings wrote in a text message.  “The IAAF execs were willing to pervert Olympic competition, robbing clean athletes of a lifelong chance to compete fairly, ripping off hundred of millions of viewers, for a few hundred thousand Euro.”

And, as Pound told the Times of London:  “Coe and (Ukraine’s Sergey) Bubka were there.  It's easy enough if you want to get a governance review.”

Coe defeated Bubka, an IAAF vice-president since 2007, last August in the election to succeed Lamine Diack of Senegal.  Both Diack and his son, former IAAF marketing consultant, Papa Massata Diack, have been implicated in the allegations of extorting doped athletes to allow them keep competing.

Coe, the two-time Olympic champion miler who headed the London 2012 Olympic Organizing Committee, became a member of the IAAF’s governing council in 2003 and had been a vice-president since 2007.

Yet he disingenuously has claimed that did not get him close enough to the sport’s inner circle to be aware of corruption that pervaded the IAAF, whose former anti-doping director was intimately involved.  If that were the case, Coe’s competence as well as his naiveté is questionable.

Last August, Coe reacted to a report the IAAF was covering up positives – a practice IAAF officials had discussed implementing as far back as 2009, according to an Associated Press story this week - by calling it “a declaration of war on my sport.”  Soon after, he delivered praise of Lamine Diack so effusive it went beyond the mandatory niceties to acknowledge an outgoing Grand Poobah.

And then there is the matter of Coe’s stubborn refusal to give up a longtime promotional contract with Nike that paid him a reported $150,000 a year.

Even after becoming IAAF president, he simply did not understand the inherent conflict-of-interest in having a top global official of the sport being paid by one of the sport’s major – and most influential - commercial partners.  It wasn’t until after stories detailing Nike’s conversations with Coe about awarding the 2021 World Outdoor Champions to Eugene, which the IAAF did last April without a vote or formal bid process, that Coe severed his monetary relationship with the sporting goods giant.

Both Coe’s inability to accept that even the appearance of conflict of interest could compromise his integrity and also his ostrich posture about what was going on in the IAAF do not make him one of Pound’s scumbags.  But they utterly undermine the argument he is the best person to lead the massive reform the IAAF must make.

The corruption was an inside job.  An outsider should clean it up.