POSTED: August 13th 2015

Op-Ed NEIL WILSON: Is Seb Coe the right man who just made the wrong move for IAAF Presidency?

Sebastian Coe, former head of the London 2012 Games, is running against IOC Executive Board Member, Sergey Bubka, for the IAAF Presidency / London 2012
Sebastian Coe, former head of the London 2012 Games, is running against IOC Executive Board Member, Sergey Bubka, for the IAAF Presidency / London 2012

Pole Vault champion Olympian, Sergey Bubka / Sergey Bubka
Pole Vault champion Olympian, Sergey Bubka / Sergey Bubka

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) For much of the past year anybody who followed Sebastian Coe's Twitter account could pinpoint where in the world he was. He wanted you to know.

He was on the campaign trail for the presidency of the International Association of Athletic Federations, and every country which had a vote mattered. Every tweet praised every one.

This week it was Costa Rica. A few days previously he was in Romania. At other times he has been on islands in the Pacific Ocean, many hardly big enough to have a track but each with a vote.

The cost to him in body and bank balance must be enormous. If you could buy the IAAF presidency with Frequent Flyer points, there would be no need for an election to take place in Beijing on August 19.

His rival for the presidency, former world pole vault champion and record holder Sergey Bubka, could be forgiven for wondering whether there should not be a limit on campaign funding. Coe has millions and he has been prepared to spend them.

Let me declare an interest here. I first spoke to Coe 40 years ago and have known him well for 35 of those years. I regard him as a friend. I do not know Bubka well.

So my heart wants Coe to win the role of leading his sport that has been in his thoughts to my knowledge for 20 years. My head told me that he would make as good a job of it as he did leading London's campaign to host the 2012 Olympic Games and then organising it.

I still think that way but after the events of this month I am wondering whether there has been an element of short-termism in his pronouncements of late. Like his feisty defence of the IAAF's record in the campaign against drug-taking. "A declaration of war on my sport," he called the reporting by the German TV network ARD and Britain's Sunday Times.

Coe has been media-savvy since his days as an Olympic champion. He has wined and dined senior members of its profession for half a lifetime. He is normally as sure-footed in that arena as he was in the rough and tumble of an 800 metres race.

This time I was left wondering whom he saw as his audience for his defence. Was it, as the German journalist who obtained the details of blood tests from an IAAF whistle-blower claimed, a "cheap electoral manoeuvre", aimed at countries with a vote?

Or did Coe believe that it would be an effective counter-blast that would persuade the millions among the public who doubt that everything is being done that can be done to rid the premier Olympic sport of its cheats?

For certain, the IAAF is not doing everything it can. It lets cheaters like Justin Gatlin bring disgrace on the sport by permitting him still to compete, as he will in their world championships this month. It continues to recognise world records set by dopers from the days of state doping programmes in Eastern Europe. It continues to allow nations like Russia where scores of athletes have been sanctioned in the last decade to contest its events without sanction.

We shall know before the world championships start in Beijing whether Coe's travellers' cheques have been invested successfully. We shall have to wait then a while longer to know whether he will make the changes his sport desperately needs.

Meanwhile, I have to hope he is the right man who made a wrong decision in defending the indefensible.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics · IAAF · Sebastian Coe · Sergey Bubka · athletics

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