(Reuters) - IAAF president Sebastian Coe says there has been no cover up of Russian doping cases despite the latest leaked documents appearing to show that officials of athletics’ governing body were discussing how to suppress news of positive tests.
“There is no cover up here,” Coe, who was a vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for seven years before becoming president in August, told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.
The athletics chief, in a separate interview with Sky News, also denied knowledge of IAAF officials discussing Russian doping problems as early as 2009 and of internal IAAF notes obtained by the Associated Press proposing some Russian dopers be sanctioned while other, less well-known athletes be allowed to disappear from the sport unpunished.
The documents showed that Pierre Weiss, then the IAAF general secretary, indicated in exchanges with former Russian athletics president Valentin Balakhnichev, who has been banned from the sport for life, serious concerns over doping problems in Russia.
“I wasn’t across any letters or internal communications that were emanating, but the overall principle has to be if there were abnormal readings were they followed up? They were. Were sanctions followed up? Yes, they were,” Coe told Sky News.
He was speaking a day before the IAAF is expected to be heavily criticized in part two of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) independent commission report into the issue.
“I don’t think it was a huge surprise that we were concerned about Russia,” said Coe, sporting a new bearded look. “The escalating number of positive tests that the IAAF Council commented on during my time was clearly a concern.
“But the issue is simple: Were all abnormal readings followed up? The answer is yes. Were sanctions imposed and made public? Yes, was there a cover-up? No.
“There is a difference between cover-up and failure to hold to account. The changes I am making around the independent integrity unit are intended to address those issues, to ensure walls to those in power are lower and that there is more accountability, including for me.”
The sport has already been tossed into turmoil by the first WADA report and French authorities placing former IAAF president Lamine Diack under formal investigation on suspicion of corruption and money laundering.
Diack’s son Papa and two Russian officials last week were banned from the sport for life by an IAAF ethics board for covering up an elite Russian athlete’s positive dope test and blackmailing her over it.
French prosecutors are investigating Diack, his son, as well as the former head of anti-doping Gabriel Dolle and Diack’s lawyer on suspicion of corruption and will also give an update on their investigation on Thursday following the WADA commission news conference.
Accusations of systematic, state-sponsored doping and related corruption in Russia were detailed in an initial report by the WADA commission, leading to the IAAF banning the Russian athletics federation from the sport.
The chairman of the independent commission, Dick Pound, has said Coe and fellow IAAF vice president Sergey Bubka could have done more to push for reforms at the federation.
“They had an opportunity a long time ago to address issues of governance,” Pound said in an interview with Britain’s Times newspaper.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, editing by Alan Baldwin