MONACO (Reuters) - There was an uneasy, faintly embarrassed atmosphere around the Fairmont Hotel on Monte Carlo’s seafront on Wednesday, in stark contrast to previous years when the suits and the spikes of world athletics have come together to celebrate their sport.
On Thursday the Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) will meet to go through the latest developments in the doping and corruption scandals that have ripped the heart out of track and field.
It is likely to be a long meeting.
In previous years the November Council has been the precursor to the IAAF Gala, when the sportsman and sportswoman of the year are honored in a glossy, hugely expensive and self-congratulatory ceremony.
This year, the council members and officials will pack their bags on Friday and return home, the gala having been canceled in the wake of the worst period the sport has ever experienced. As new president Sebastian Coe rightly perceived, this was not a time to be seen celebrating.
There is precious little appetite for a party.
Though some council members were in an upbeat mood as part of a Sport for Peace conference at the same venue, when asked about Thursday’s meeting, few were prepared to talk.
“It’s not the time. We’re not doing media,” one told Reuters, even insisting on anonymity for that comment.
So, instead of being lauded on stage in their finery, the shortlisted stars such as Usain Bolt, Ashton Eaton, Genzebe Dibaba and Dafne Schippers, along with the world’s media will hear of the award winners via an emailed news release.
Coe, who took over from Lamine Diack in August, has said the sport he graced as a world-beating middle distance runner has been “shamed” by a series of doping and corruption revelations many observers consider even more damning than those engulfing world soccer body FIFA.
The IAAF was put on the back foot initially by media claims that it had covered up or ignored swathes of suspicious blood tests, claims that Coe initially and ill-advisedly dismissed as a “declaration of war on our sport”.
However French police subsequently announced they were questioning 82-year-old Diack over claims he had taken payments of hundreds of thousands of pounds to make positive doping tests “disappear” and allow guilty athletes to continue to compete.
Then the independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released a report detailing systematic, state-sponsored doping in Russia that had “sabotaged” the 2012 Olympics.
The IAAF, also heavily criticized in the report, followed the commission’s recommendation that Russia be banned from the sport until it could prove it had put its doping house in order.
Evidence of what steps are being taken in that regard will be heard by the Council on Thursday, with Russia desperate to get back on board in time to compete in next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Coe, twice Olympic 1500 meters champion and the driving force behind London’s 2012 Games, will chair that meeting but it will take place against the background of his own impartiality being questioned.
Coe has refused to sever his ties with sportswear giant Nike, who pay him as an advisor, but he has been forced to defend himself again this week after claims he supported the controversial awarding of the 2021 world championships to Eugene — a city closely aligned with Nike.
The former head of the bid of the Swedish city of Gothenburg, which had been planning a campaign to host the event only to discover the IAAF had awarded it to Eugene without a bidding contest, told Reuters on Wednesday that the potential for Coe’s conflict of interest in it needed investigating.
“There is a huge lack of morals and transparency that is wrong and unacceptable,” he added, of the Eugene decision.
Coe denies any conflict of interest.
So, a year that should have been the dream culmination of Coe’s long and varied post-running career has turned out to be something of a nightmare, and it is far from over.
Instead of looking forward to Rio and athletics taking center stage for all the right reasons, everyone at the IAAF is readying themselves for more revelations from WADA which are currently being held back while a French-led Interpol team investigates internal corruption at the Monaco-based organization.
The Commission’s head, former WADA chief Dick Pound, said this week details of IAAF failings to be released in the new year would produce a “wow factor”.
“I think people will say ‘how on earth could this happen?’” he said.
“It’s a complete betrayal of what the people in charge of the sport should be doing.”
Editing by Ralph Boulton