POSTED: July 26th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Seb Coe's stand shames his old friend Thomas Bach

Olympian Sebastian Coe IAAF President © Getty Images
Olympian Sebastian Coe IAAF President © Getty Images

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

(SFC) Sebastian Coe can be excused a wry smile when he arrives in Rio for the opening of the Olympic Games. The Briton who lords it over athletic's world governing body knows that for the first time since he became IAAF president he is ahead of the game.

The irony of this week's Olympic machinations and the IOC's gutless decision on Russia is that the double Olympic track champion at 1500 metres who was sport's bête noir for the last year has emerged as its white knight.

While his German friend Thomas Bach swerved a decision on banning the Russians from Rio, sent a hospital pass to the international sports federations and was lambasted in every corner of the globe,  Coe stood apart, tall and proud. The credibility of the IAAF was restored.

His federation banned the Russian track and field federation and all but two of the Russian athletes from Rio. When the Russians challenged the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Coe turned up in person at the hearing to make certain nobody under-estimated his determination to punish Russia for so many of his sport's ills. And he won. "For the first day this year we could actually look upwards," a senior  IAAF official told me. 

For his first 11 months as president Coe had not a moment of peace from those who believed him complicit with all that was wrong with athletics. Media in his own country demanded his resignation. Politicians there summoned him to Parliament to answer for his sins.

He had made mistakes in those early months. He failed to sever his financial links with Nike quickly enough. He showed less than customary fleetness of foot when he called proper investigation of wrong-doings by a documentary maker a "war on my sport". But when the proof of criminal acts became over-whelming he did not duck the hard decision needed.

While other federation presidents were embarrassingly quick to clear Russians for Rio - tennis took an hour or two while Russian gymnasts were already  at Moscow airport ready for departure - Coe stood apart from them, unmoved.

Now the guns are turned instead on Bach, the German fencer Coe first met at the IOC Congress in Baden-Baden in 1981 when both spoke to the membership, Coe on the subject of doping.  Spineless was one condemnation. Too close to Russian president Vladimir Putin was another.

The IOC's proclamation of 'zero tolerance' was shown up for what it is. Just words. When push came to shove from the Big Bear in Moscow, Bach bottled it.

Five rings stood over the door to IOC headquarters but there were no balls within it.

The IOC has a long record for poor decisions back one hundred years to its stripping of Jim Thorpe of his two gold medals in 1912, a decision it took them seventy years until after his death to reverse. This one may not take as long because others may do it for them. Russians banned from Rio because they have previously served doping bans will almost certainly appeal on the grounds of 'double jeopardy' to CAS.

Since CAS threw out the IOC's previous attempt at imposing 'double jeopardy' in what became known as the Osaka ruling, the Russians who challenge will most likely win. It will be interesting to see if Bach turns up to the hearing to defend his decision, as Coe did. Or will he duck that, too.

 ** 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.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · Olympics · IAAF

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