Sebastian Coe has today been accused of misleading a parliamentary inquiry about the extent to which he was aware of Russian doping in athletics.
Lord Coe, who is president of the IAAF, athletics’ world governing body, appeared before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee in December 2015 but they have cast doubt on his testimony. The former athlete said he had not been aware of any “specific allegations” about the corruption of anti-doping systems in Russia until he watched a revelatory documentary which aired on the German TV channel ARD in December 2014.
But his evidence was seemingly contradicted when another witness, Dave Bedford, appeared before the DCMS select committee. Bedford, the former race director of the London Marathon, told MPs he made several attempts to tell Coe about a case involving the Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova.
He had heard of Shobukhova being extorted by the IAAF and Russian officials for $450,000 to cover up a positive drugs test. Bedford claimed to have made exhaustive attempts to warn Coe in August 2014, including a phone call, an email with an attachment detailing what had gone on, and text messages.
He also told MPs that when he spoke to Coe at a British Athletics Writers’ Association lunch in November that year he “had no inkling from that conversation that he was not aware of the subject matter in general terms”.
Coe, who took over from the disgraced Lamine Diack as IAAF president in 2015, claimed he simply forwarded the emails on to the IAAF’s ethics commission without any further investigation.
But a report by the DCMS committee inquiry, published on Monday , criticises Coe for what appears to be wilful ignorance on the part of the 61-year-old. “He sought to distance himself from any knowledge of the allegations of doping in Russian athletics before the details were exposed in the German documentary,” the report reads. “His answers to us about this were misleading: Lord Coe may not have read the email and attachments sent to him but it stretches credibility to believe that he was not aware, at least in general terms, of the main allegations that the ethics commission had been asked to investigate.
“It is certainly disappointing that Lord Coe did not take the opportunity, given to him by David Bedford, to make sure he was fully informed of the serious issues at stake in the Shobukhova case and their wider implications for the governance of the anti-doping rules at the IAAF,” the inquiry report adds.
Coe is further chastised for his response to claims that the IAAF had sought to suppress an anti-doping report by the University of Tübingen which found up to 45% of track and field competitors may have been on drugs. The authors of that report claimed the IAAF blocked its publication for several years but Coe told MPs he needed to check the methodology before agreeing to its release. The report is highly critical of that move, saying: “We find the IAAF’s stated reasons for blocking publication of the study to be unconvincing.” “We are concerned that their behaviour indicates a lack of transparency and, worse, an apparent desire to suppress revelations about doping in sport.”
The report also calls for a General Medical Council investigation into Dr Rob Chakraverty, formerly a British Athletics medic and now the lead performance doctor with the England football team. Chakraverty gave Mo Farah an injection of the controversial supplement L-Carnitine before the 2014 London Marathon but admitted to MPs he failed to record the treatment properly. He said a “mentally busy job” prevented him from making a proper record but the select committee called for an investigation.
“The committee was shocked to hear that Dr Chakraverty gave an injection of L-Carnitine to Mo Farah – a treatment that Dr Charkraverty had never before given and that Mo Farah had never before received – yet did not record the dose on Farah’s medical records,” the report reads. “UK Athletics has a responsibility to ensure that proper records are kept for its athletes, and the committee is pleased to note the progress that has been made since 2014. Poor record keeping not only impedes the work of the anti-doping authorities but can make it harder for clean athletes to clear their names, once questions about their use of medicines have been raised. Again we believe that the GMC should investigate any incident where doctors working in sport have failed to properly record the medicines they are supplying to their athletes.”
The report stops short of recommending the criminalisation of doping in sport but does call for a change in the law so that individuals who supply sportspeople with performance-enhancing products should face prison sentences. “The Government should give serious consideration to criminalising the supply of drugs to sportspeople with intent to enhance performance rather than to mitigate ill-health,” the report reads. “In so doing they defraud clean athletes they are competing against. This would send a stronger message about the unacceptability and the dangers of doping, not only to the suppliers but also to the athletes.”
A UK Athletics spokeswoman said: “UK Athletics acknowledges the publication of the Select Committee report Combatting Doping In Sport. We are pleased that the committee has noted the progress made in the record keeping since 2014 and also that it supports elements from our Clean Athletics Manifesto published in 2016. UK Athletics is 100% committed to Clean Athletics.”
An IAAF statement said: “The IAAF takes the fight against doping very seriously. Over the last 14 months (since the IAAF provided information to the DCMS Select Committee), the organisation has introduced a set of wide sweeping reforms to revamp the governance of the sport, made 200 changes to its constitution, set up an independent Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) that is a world first in sport, and suspended the Russian Member Federation.”