DOHA (Reuters) - Athletes must choose their coaches carefully to avoid any risk of guilt by association, global athletics boss Sebastian Coe said on Wednesday, two days after a four-year ban was handed to leading American coach Alberto Salazar.
Coe, speaking to a group of news agency reporters including Reuters, also defended the organization of the world athletics championships in Qatar, saying that the athletes were not worried about small attendances at the Khalifa stadium.
Salazar was banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) on Monday for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” as head coach of the Nike Oregon Project (NOP), a camp designed primarily to develop U.S. endurance athletes.
Salazar said he would appeal USADA’s decision and sportswear giant Nike said it would stand by him.
A number of the athletes in Doha train at the NOP including women’s 10,000 meters gold medalist Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and American Donavan Brazier, who won Tuesday’s men’s 800 meters.
“A banned coach has to sever relationships with those athletes. That’s what’s taking place,” said Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
“Coaches and athletes have to make judgments all the time. If you are coached by somebody, you should be absolutely comfortable that you are working in an environment that’s safe and secure and is not going to damage you own reputation. An athlete should ask those questions.”
He didn’t see any risk that the NOP athletes would be tainted by the USADA ruling.
“No. No. I’m sorry. I don’t live in that world where you just automatically assume the worst,” he said.
“It’s what happens. We’re dealing with it. It doesn’t derail the championships. It may for you guys, but in reality it’s not a broader issue for most people watching the championships.”
Coe did not want to comment on the NOP itself. “I have no idea,” he said. “I haven’t even read the adjudication. It’s not a program I’m remotely across or I understand.”
Coe said he spent every evening on the track talking to athletes, medical staff and delegates and that they were happy with the organization of the world championships, despite the low attendances.
“They are very pleased to be here,” he said. “Yes, we could have done with more spectators in the stadium but there are pretty understandable reasons why that has been a challenge.
“They are not talking about (the crowds) and actually, the athletes talking about externalities are probably not the ones who are going to be walking home with medals from here.”
“We want a full stadium and that has to be the challenge but we need to focus also on the absolute quality of what we are seeing here,” he added, also pointing out that athletes from 28 countries had won medals so far.
“I can’t remember a world championships actually that has delivered at this level for a long time.”
Coe denied that the heat and humidity in Doha away from the air-conditioned main stadium made it dangerous for the road races, with temperatures hovering around 30 Celsius after 2330 local time when the marathons and walks start.
“We had a medical facility there which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any championship, Olympics or world championships,” he said, adding that heat and small crowds were not unique to Qatar.
“In Seville (1999), we were dealing with 41 degrees of temperature. I went to Edmonton (2001), the numbers in the stadium make this look like a first-class problem.”
Coe said the IAAF wanted to cut the cost of staging the championships and hoped that one day it could go to countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya or Jamaica.
“It can’t keep going back to the same eight or nine places that we’ve always sort of focused on in the past,” he said.
“We need to make sure, where we possibly can, we take cost out. Just make it an easier business proposition for a city to want to take us on board.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Christian Radnedge and Ken Ferris