Spectator sport

Seb Coe is a fine man... who deserves to feel uncomfortable

Killing the messenger was never the best policy and now he needs all his determination and discipline to get this straightened out

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

So Smiley was right all along: the bloody Russians were the baddest of the bad. The Pound report on the epic scale of their state-sponsored doping and cheating in athletics was indeed seismic. It can’t have come as that much of a surprise, though. In a remarkable investigation in July 2013, Martha Kelner and Nick Harris of the Mail on Sunday blew the lid on the whole cesspool of Russian corruption.

This was the headline: Drugs, -bribery and the cover-up! -Russian athletes— including those who robbed Brits of medals — ‘ordered to dope by coaches’ and officials ‘demanded cash to mask positive tests’. Pretty much what we got this week from Dick Pound, the gunslinging sheriff brought in to clean up the sport. But what a pity that athletics’ governing body, the IAAF, hadn’t felt like doing anything a bit earlier.

Its main job has been to say: ‘Move along please, there’s no story here.’ After the Sunday Times revealed that suspicious blood samples had been taken from athletes, Sebastian Coe, then campaigning to become head of the IAAF, said it was ‘a declaration of war on my sport’. Killing the messenger the best policy, eh? I don’t think so. Coe, a fine man of immense achievement, has now come in for a pretty justified roasting. He must be looking back nostalgically to the days when his toughest assignment was to be William Hague’s judo partner. His IAAF predecessor Lamine Diack is now under investigation by French police after accusations of corruption over doping tests. Coe has described Diack as the ‘spiritual leader’ of -athletics. Some spirit, some leader. Coe needs to use his (record-breaking) levels of determination and discipline to get this straightened out.

Russia should be kicked out of Rio, if not banned from all competition until it gets its house in order. That will not be so easy: the country has hosted innumerable global events and is at the heart of world sports politics. Steve Cram told 5 Live the other day he had been complaining about Russian cheating since he was 17. ‘And I’m 55 now.’ That’s a long time to be banging on about something with nobody much listening. And Russia is the tip of the iceberg. There should be another Pound operation in, say, Kenya and one or two other countries. Morocco perhaps.

Coe has wanted to lead athletics for years and is determined to get the sport back into the mainstream, as it was in his day. The World Championships in Beijing in August were a wonderful celebration of the sport. But how clean were they? Who knows now? Anyone who cares about the sport must pray that this won’t be too much for Coe. But I don’t buy into all the hysteria about ‘the greatest crisis sport has ever faced’. Bigger than in ad 393 when the Christian emperor Theodosius, banned the Olympic Games for being pagan? And banned they stayed for 1,500 years or so. There’s a proper sporting crisis for you.

The fact is that man has always cheated — it’s part of being human. But that is no reason to stop doing anything about it. Perhaps the best thing to happen in sport this year is the spate of Fifa arrests. Wizened autocrats being charged and, hopefully, banged up should change a few habits. The crucial force here was the Americans, who don’t take kindly to corruption in their own backyard. Until anyone can get totalitarian states like Russia to take the same approach, things are unlikely to get better. But here’s where it can: the cyclist Chris Froome is a shining example of what one sport can look like after its rulers have taken a rigorous approach to cleaning it up.

So Slammin’ Sam will slam no more, at least not on the rugby union fields of England. Sad, I say. He was picked too early. Four more years to learn the game and he would have been as devastating as Sonny Bill Williams. English rugby need players who can run and pass, not stick it up the jumper. It looks like he was homesick too: getting lots of flak can increase homesickness (ask any prep school boy). Still, enjoy the Sydney sunshine Sam. We will miss you.

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  • Terence Hale

    The penal system may have to be changed. With athletes and footballers in prison should they be allows to run by the daily exercise in the prison yard.

  • Malcolm Stevas

    I have had no time at all for Coe since he seized an opportunity to resign as Chairman of the National Pistol Association after the Dunblane shootings, perhaps seeing which way the PR wind was blowing.

    • Dizzy2142

      or maybe he just changed his mind about pistols after a horrific incident, like a lot of people

      • Malcolm Stevas

        Neither fair nor rational: “pistols” did not kill those children, and neither did the 57,000 (approx) legitimate holders of handguns on certificate (including me) except for one man who was known to be a weirdo but who for reasons that have been suppressed by court order was permitted to retain his guns by Central Scotland Police. Coe simply copped out.

        • starfish

          It is all part of the Establishment’s intent to disarm citizens while leaving crims, terrorists and nutters free to crack on with a barely policed illegal arms trade

          • Malcolm Stevas

            Quite: (firearms) laws only affect the law-abiding. Our fireams laws have never affected criminals in the slightest, and as these laws have been ramped up steadily over the past 100 years, in parallel gun crime has increased to levels far higher than in thos times.
            Today’s Telegraph carries a story on a Brit truck driver who has been let off by a judge, having been found here with a stun-gun he acquired to fend off the rampaging migrants at Calais. Not even a proper firearm – just a defensive tool – but he could have ended up in the slammer for several years. As it is, he had to pay court costs and a fine, and had his property confiscated. Outrageous and idiotic.

  • starfish

    None of this is news

    We will see Coe’s bravery if the Russians are excluded

    Judging by the volte face in the official Russian view this week they are very worried it might happen

    • flipkipper

      You’re diverting again, lefty.
      This is not about the Russians. It’s about Coe.
      The Russians i.e. Putin at least have *admitted* to wrongdoing.
      See, you lefties don’t report that do you?

  • Richard Eldritch

    To be fair to the man, he didn’t feel like being murdered to death.

  • john

    Coe was a great runner who is now the creepily pompous, Lord Coe.

  • flipkipper

    If Beckenbauer and Platini need to go, so does Coe.

    • rtj1211

      The alternative on offer, Sergei Bubka, arguably was even worse.

      The idealists like Paula Radcliffe simply don’t have the means to do the job, although they are undoubtedly serving their sport by being its conscience.

      My personal view is that someone should go and drag Mrs Garry Cook, kicking and screaming, from her home in the West Midlands and turn a retired athlete, mother of grown up children and long-term pillar of a West Midlands community into a stern headmistress capable of calling as many spades bloody shovels as necessary; capable of doing a Mother Teresa on Vladimir Putin, the CEO of Nike and IMG; and capable to telling every coach, sponsor, young athlete and meeting promoter on earth that if she could set a British record which stood for 30 years without taking drugs, then so the ****** h**l can the current generation…….

      That is, if you need someone who understands athletics, is utterly untainted by 50 years of corruption and drug taking and is sufficiently disinterested in power not to agree to do anything unless she can do it the right way………….and even then quite possibly might refuse……

      Unless others have any more realistic suggestions……..

  • Colin56

    The simple fact is: sport is corrupt. Get over it. Anyone watching over-pumped ‘athletes’ on the track must know that they are being artificially supported by substances both legal and illegal. Sheer human endeavour is no longer enough.

    What surprises me is that Coe, having been deputy president at the IAAF for eight – count ’em, eight – years, apparently had no idea that the ‘newly discovered’ widespread doping was going on. He thus fails on either of two counts: if he didn’t know he was either stupid or not doing his job properly; and if he did know, he is complicit. Either way, he should not be in charge of IAAF.

    Unfortunately, sports administration is rotten to the core. See the Olympics passim, FIFA, cricket match fixing, swimming … the list goes on. Money and greed are at the root of it.

    Coe should go if he has a shred of decency (but, don’t forget, he was once a Tory bag carrier and up to his neck in the appallingly expensive 2012 Olympics) and the IAAF should be disbanded. Rio should be cancelled (and the money diverted to helping the poor in Brazil) and the Olympics be put on ‘Pause’ while a new system is installed. Newsflash: none of this will happen.

    Don’t forget, most of the money in sport comes from consumers – either through subscriptions too sports channels on TV or purchasing goods made by commercial sponsors.

  • sir_graphus

    I was suspicious in 2012 how few positive drugs tests there were in all Olympic sports. Either sport had become magically clean and wonderful, or the drug takers had got themselves a step ahead of the testers again.
    As far as FIFA goes, we’ve known for years that the largest item on the stationary bill for the successful bidder is brown envelopes. The FA must have known this. So why did they waste our money bidding?

  • Eques

    Is this the same Roger Alton who was a cheerleader for Murdoch at the height of the hacking scandal?

    Oh dear, not a great character reference for Coe, then.

  • lift_the_toilet_seat

    If the Russians are dirty, how are other countries beating them? Why were so few caught in 2012?

  • Gilbert White

    Coe has done well turning sport into finance?

  • TrulyDisqusted

    You need to grease sniff a lot of arßehölës to become head of the IAAF.

    Perhaps he should have practiced his judo with Government Ministers from a younger age?