© Copyright – 20 15 – Athletics Illustrated
On August 19th, Lord Sebastian Coe was narrowly elected President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and immediately the pressure began to mount on him. The noise came from concerns to do with apparent corruption, bribery, extortion, sponsorship issues and systematic doping and doping cover-ups apparently going on in Russia. He became the patriarch of the very dysfunctional athletics family.
For 38 years he represented the giant American apparel company Nike. The relationship started first when he was a world-class athlete then continued through his political career, followed by a seven-year stint as vice-president of the IAAF, a tenure on the FIFA ethics committee and his role as chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Games and finally his run-up and successful election as president of the IAAF. On Thursday, November 26th Coe stepped down as an ambassador for Nike. It was the right thing to do.
Coe said that he reluctantly stepped down from his role because the noise from it was becoming a distraction and the messaging was becoming mangled. Can the public and the media be blamed? With all due respect, the optics appears scandalous.
The noise is loud for good reason. The mangled messaging must be managed by Coe, top-down, by demonstration. He should have stepped down before his campaign started. In fact, he should not have been an ambassador while he was chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Games.
In April, before the election, but during Coe’s campaign,the IAAF awarded Eugene, Oregon the 2021 IAAF World Track and Field Championships without a vote. Gothenburg is furious, and so they should be. How can the awarding of the world championships to Eugene, Oregon not be construed as potentially corrupt, when the person in charge is representing Nike of nearby Portland, who clearly has a vested interest in landing a global championships next door?
Coe’s predecessor, Lamine Diack, who Coe lavished with praise, was arrested and is currently being investigated for apparently taking bribes to cover up positive doping tests. His son, Papa Massata is being investigated for the same thing as well as apparently taking bribes in awarding Doha, Qatar the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field Championships.
When ARD Television received a leaked, top-secret document that held all the blood values from the previous decade of Olympians, Coe called into question the qualifications of two scientists Robin Parisotto and Michael Ashenden, who are leading experts in their field, when they confirmed many of the Olympic medallists had suspicious blood values. He said, “These so-called experts – give me a break.” They couldn’t have been more qualified.
The president before Diack, Primo Nebiolo was also found to be corrupt. This is not something new. Coe’s involvement with the IAAF under Diack as well as his role with FIFA – which the president, Sepp Blatter, is also under investigation for bribery, is reason enough to suggest that Coe representing a company that has sponsored many of the most notorious drug cheats in history and are sponsors of global championships and national teams, looks bad, the optics are distressing.
Expectations of a president of a global governing body are high and so they should be. At no time should a president or campaigning president be representing a sponsor of a flagship event like the world championships or the athletics portion of the Olympics.
The public and the media can be excused for making noise of the mangled messaging.