Seb Coe strenuously denied reports he misled MPs over when he became aware of serious corruption at the global governing body of athletics. Less than 24 hours before he will announce whether Russia’s track and field stars will be allowed to compete at the Rio Olympics, Coe also faced claims he turned to the disgraced former marketing executive Papa Massata Diack, who is wanted by Interpol, to help him secure African votes when he became IAAF president last year.
As senior figures from the IAAF gathered in Vienna to decide Russia’s fate on Friday afternoon, Coe was batting away allegations of wrongdoing from a Panorama documentary. The BBC showed him refusing to answer a series of questions when approached by its reporter Mark Daly. Coe, however, has strongly denied any wrongdoing.
The first allegation, which was also made in the Daily Mail, is that Coe knew senior figures in the International Association of Athletics Federations and Russian Athletics had extorted money from the Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova in August 2014 – four months before it was made public by the German TV channel ARD. Coe was not caught up in any of the doping or corruption allegations.
However, the programme suggested he told a parliamentary select committee he had first heard the Shobukhova allegations via ARD in December 2014, when – in fact – he had received an email from the former 10,000m world record-holder David Bedford alerting him to the Shobukhova revelations in August. But in a statement the IAAF said it “strongly refuted” the claim. It also insisted Coe had not lied about the matter because he forwarded the email from Bedford to the IAAF’s independent ethics commission without actually opening the attachment.
An IAAF spokeswoman said: “Seb Coe was forwarded a number of emails and information regarding allegations of corruption and concerning the behaviour of certain individuals. All of this material was sent by him to the Ethics Commission whose remit is to investigate such matters and then to pass judgment.
“Seb has never denied hearing rumours about corruption. He did receive an email from Dave Bedford that said ‘The attachments relate to an issue that is being investigated by the IAAF EC (Michael Beloff)’. This was enough for Seb Coe to forward the email to the Ethics Commission. He did not feel it was necessary to read the attachments.
“You may think this shows a lack of curiosity. He, and we, would argue that it shows a full duty of care. Ensuring the right people in the right place were aware of allegations and were investigating them.”
The BBC also showed a number of text messages which appeared to indicate Papa Massata Diack helped him secure African votes for the IAAF presidential election in August 2015. Diack, who is the son of the former IAAF president Lamine Diack and was banned from life from athletics earlier this year, also claimed he met Coe three times before the vote – even though at the time he was under investigation.
The BBC also indicated Massata Diack appeared to provide information on the election tactics of Coe’s rival, Sergey Bubka, and suggested that Diack Jr may have brought him 24 African votes out of 30. However, an IAAF spokeswoman called the claims “wrong”. “As with any campaign lots of people offer advice – wanted or not, some helpful, some not,” she said. “You try to be civil but wary. This was the case with Mr Diack.”
Meanwhile, the Russian pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva has urged the IAAF to allow Russian athletes to compete in Rio, saying it was not fair to “forbid me and other Russian athletes to compete, athletes who have repeatedly proved they are innocent of cheating”.
Isinbayeva, a double Olympic gold medallist who has never tested positive, said: “Let’s be clear: doping is a global issue that has cast a shadow over athletics in many countries. So if some Russian athletes have failed doping tests, why must Russia’s clean athletes face a ban? Why shouldn’t we be able to compete in Rio against the clean athletes from other countries in Rio?”
However, in an open letter to Coe, Athletics Canada urged the IAAF to “send a clear message to athletes, coaches, administrators and fans everywhere” by banning Russia when its council meets today before announcing its decision around 4pm UK time. Rob Guy, the Athletics Canada chief executive, said: “While we acknowledge some modest progress has been made in Russia, Athletics Canada feels strongly there is little evidence of a reversal in a systematic and deep-rooted doping culture in Russian Athletics.
“We empathise with Russia’s clean athletes who achieve their dreams through clean hard work. Unfortunately, their federation has failed them and the ongoing recent revelations of non-compliance, lack of cooperation and widespread individual doping violations from previous Olympics cause one to be sceptical about any Russian performances.
“We encourage the IAAF to err on the side of caution to protect the integrity of our sport and the Olympic movement.”