LONDON (Reuters) - The head of an investigation that found high-level corruption in international athletics has accused Sebastian Coe, leader of the sport’s world governing body, of missing opportunities to push reform “a long time ago” when he was vice-president.
Dick Pound authored a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission report that exposed a state-sponsored culture of doping in Russia and shook the athletics world. The second part of the report, due next Thursday, is expected to focus on the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that Coe heads.
Coe was not immediately available for comment on Pound’s accusation, but a Dutch IAAF Council member said he had played a major part in exposing the problems faced by the sport.
Pound accused Coe, successor to Lamine Diack who is now under French police investigation on suspicion of corruption, and then-fellow vice-president Sergey Bubka of worsening the situation at IAAF by failing to take prompt action.
“Coe and Bubka were there (as vice-presidents to Diack),” Pound told the British Times newspaper. “It’s easy enough if you want to get a governance review. They had a (19th-century) constitution in a 21st-century organization.
“They had an opportunity a long time ago to address issues of governance, and you saw from the International Olympic Committee what happens if you don’t do that,” he told the Times.
The International Olympic Committee was embroiled in a corruption scandal in the 1990s involving, among other things, influence-peddling and gifts by cities bidding for the Games.
Two top Russian athletics officials and the son of Diack were banned from athletics for life on Thursday for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test and blackmailing her over it. Officials have said the scandal may spread to other countries and other sports.
The IAAF corruption inquiry, focusing on the suppression of positive doping results in return for payments by athletes, coincides with a corruption scandal in world soccer body FIFA.
Dutch IAAF Council member Sylvia Barlag defended Coe’s role.
“Seb championed the establishment of the Ethics Commission and Code on the IAAF Council,” she said. “Without the independent commission the IAAF would not have had the mechanisms in place to investigate these matters which resulted in the sanctions which were delivered yesterday.”
Coe has said his vice-president role was minimal and for a long period took a back seat to organizing the 2012 Olympics.
“I was aware we had a problem, but the specific numbers, I did not,” he told a British Parliamentary Committee last month.
Earlier this week Coe published his “road map” for the future of athletics which included a radical overhaul of the IAAF’s internal operations which he promised would result in greater accountability, transparency and communications.
Coe said when the doping scandal broke with a German television report of misconduct within IAAF that the investigation could stir a witch-hunt that could ensnare clean athletes. Pound rejected this suggestion.
“If the IAAF does not acknowledge it had a problem, then it will be hard to put in place the changes they need to make,” Pound said.
“With very few exceptions, I have not seen international sports federation presidents so involved in corruption, as opposed to moving money around like the FIFA boys.
“In a sense, this is worse. This gets down to affecting the outcome on the field of play. It’s about the integrity of competition.”
The doping scandal has thrown doubt over the award of some medals in international competition in recent years.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Ralph Boulton