Will Lord Sebastian Coe bring the required foundational and cultural changes necessary to fix the sport of Athletics and create a sense of respectability again? Coe, elected the sixth president of the International Association of Athletics Federations on August 18th has his work cut out for him.
The Guardian newspaper wrote:
Sebastian Coe has described his election as president of the world athletics governing body as the pinnacle of his career and vowed to introduce an independent doping commission to address perceived “conflicts and loopholes”.
The issues are deeper than just “conflicts and loopholes”.
The number one issue currently facing Coe is doping, but it is not as simple as that. This is a multi-faceted problem. First of all, the sheer numbers of athletes that have been apparently doping in the sport indicate that there are willful cheaters; however, there is a certain number that feel helpless in the sport if they do not dope. Although there is no data to verify this, it is likely, right or wrong, that a good percentage of dopers do so just to be able to compete.
Transparency is another issue. If the IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are caught again – like the IAAF was with their leaked test data that ARD Television got a hold of – the task of returning athletics to respectability will be lost. Although a governing body cannot be run as an open book, one more major skeleton in the closet will close the book on the sport of athletics. History cannot rewrite itself, case in point Russian systematic doping.
The systematic doping that Russia is accused of is currently the 500 pound gorilla in the kitchen that few are willing to address. Everyone in the sport of athletics knows that a vast majority, upwards of nearly 97% of Russian athletes, are suspected of doping. The Russians as a team often finish very high in the medal standing at the Olympic Games. What does this mean to the sport of athletics? What can Coe do to clean Russia up? Does he erase the past?
Kenyan doping, although not systematic, is apparently rife. Where Russia is highly organised with the apparent doping of their athletes, in comparison Kenya is the Wild West, sort of speak. ARD Television’s Hajo Seppelt discovered that by acting under cover as a sports agent, buying performance enhancing drugs on the streets of Kenya is not an issue.
Where the Kenyans and potentially other third world nation’s athletes see a way out of poverty by winning at all costs, Russia sees winning as a sheer ego maniacal manifestation. These are two very different root causes that require two very different plans of attack.
Countries that do not have out of competition testing, such as Jamaica, Kenya and Ethiopia versus America’s freewheeling sense of enterprise or Russia’s state controlled doping are microcosms of their political and economic systems. Does Coe really have the ability to bring foundational changes to the varied political, social and economic situations that will enable the necessary changes to the sport of athletics?