Sebastian Coe: IAAF reforms are about standing tall for the clean athletes

President of governing body urges the 214 member federations to back his revolution to perform the equivalent of a hard reset on a calamitous few years

At some point on Saturday Sebastian Coe will address all 214 member federations of athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, and urge them to support a revolution. “This is a pretty important week in the history of our sport,” the IAAF president admitted on Thursday night.

“Because I do not want us ever to return to the grotesque stories that even over the last few days we have been waking up to.”

Coe did not refer to those stories directly. There was no need. It has been impossible to escape the festering stench of corruption left by several former senior IAAF officials, who this year were banned for life for conspiring to demand money from Russian athletes in order to cover up anomalies in their biological passports.

This week the French newspaper Le Monde and the German broadcaster ARD reported that the practice was more widespread than initially thought, based on documents from a continued investigation by French prosecutors into the former IAAF president Lamine Diack, his son Papa Massata Diack and others over alleged corruption and money laundering. Meanwhile the steady drip of positive retests from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – while ultimately good for the sport – has deepened the impression that more needs to be done to stop doping.

However, Coe hopes to perform the equivalent of a hard reset on a calamitous few years for athletics by introducing a series of governance reforms – including some that are surprisingly radical in places. They include stripping himself of some powers as IAAF president, creating an integrity code and anti-doping body, ensuring a greater voice to athletes and creating a roadmap to ensure a 50/50 male/female split among the IAAF council by 2027. Under Coe’s plans the president and IAAF council will not be allowed to serve more than 12 years and there will also be greater checks and balances to stop the president taking major decisions alone.

“This is a moment to be bold, not to be timid,” he said on Thursday night. “The reforms create the strongest set of foundations upon which we need to build new fans, create new formats, to find new partners and frankly to create new and exciting events. We must engage with young people, we must find new fans – and that sits at the heart of our strategy.”

Coe stressed that his key reform was a plan for a beefy and independent integrity unit that would manage all anti-doping matters and be responsible for greater intelligence gathering. He also pointed out that an online portal to allow people, privately and securely, to forward on information about doping had received 43 leads in its first 48 hours. “These reforms are fundamentally about standing tall for the clean athletes,” he said. “The clean athletes have to know we are in their corner.”

Coe needs the backing of two-thirds of the federations to get the proposals through and, while he knows there will be some resistance, he has urged doubters to think of the consequences of maintaining the status quo. “We have sponsors and stakeholders watching very carefully how we address the issues facing our sport and facing all sport, as we strive for greater transparency and accountability,” he wrote recently in the IAAF’s booklet Time for Change. “Our partnerships and revenue streams are directly under threat if we do not act promptly and decisively.” Privately his supporters hope the reforms will turn the IAAF into one of the most open and transparent bodies in global sport – perhaps even the most transparent, an exemplar for others. They also point to the vocal backing of the IAAF Athletes’ Commission, which says the “future of the sport” depends on the proposals being voted through.

Coe knows not everyone is so positive about him or the sport’s future. However, as he might reflect, Friday is a year to the day since he faced a hostile three-hour grilling from MPs on the culture and media select committee over his relationship with Lamine Diack and why he did not know more about corruption at the IAAF. As Coe confessed to the MPs, the IAAF’s problems were like a “horror show”. Now, perhaps, it is more like a 12 certificate than an 18 – but much work remains, as Coe concedes.

“We must accept that the reputation of the IAAF and athletics has been tarnished by events that came to light a year ago,” he says. “We still have a lot of work to do to restore our reputation, credibility and trust within our own sport and the wider world of sport.”

Saturday, though, could prove a significant step in the right direction.


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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