A defiant world athletics president Sebastian Coe said on Wednesday that he had had no inkling of corruption within his organisation and defended his links with American sportswear giant Nike.
Lamine Diack, Coe’s predecessor as International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president, is being investigated by French authorities over claims he took bribes to cover up doping offences.
The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) is also preparing a report on allegations of corruption within the IAAF, where Coe was vice-president for eight years prior to his appointment as president in August.
But when asked by the British parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport committee if he had heard any “whispers” about corruption within the organisation, Coe replied flatly: “No.” Coe, 59, had previously described Diack as the sport’s “spiritual leader” and said that he reacted with “shock, sorrow and anger” when he learnt of his arrest.
But he said he had not asked Diack about corruption allegations levelled at his son, Pape Diack, who stepped down from his position as an IAAF marketing consultant a year ago.
“No, because there were no allegations being made about the president (at the time),” Coe explained.
When it was put to him that the IAAF was corrupt, Coe replied: “No, it’s not a corrupt organisation.”
Coe was speaking during a three-hour grilling by British lawmakers at London’s Houses of Parliament. He reiterated his stance that his 38-year association with Nike, for whom he worked as an ambassador prior to relinquishing the role last week, was not a conflict of interest.
The BBC last week published an email from a senior Nike executive that suggested Coe had lobbied Diack for the 2021 World Championships to be awarded to Eugene, Oregon, where Nike was founded.
When asked if it had been in Nike’s interest for the event to be awarded to Eugene — which it was, without a formal bid process — Coe said: “I don’t conclude that.”
On the nature of his communications with Nike, Coe said: “I was asked the question. I gave a view that Eugene needed to get back into the competition and get into the next bid cycle.”
Asked if his relationship with Nike represented a conflict of interest, he said: “It would have been if it hadn’t been properly identified.”
Coe refused to apologise for describing allegations of doping in athletics as a “declaration of war”, having used that phrase in August after the Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD claimed to have unearthed evidence of hundreds of suspicious blood samples.
An independent WADA commission subsequently published evidence of endemic, state-supported doping by Russian athletes.
Coe said he would not “step back” from his stance, but admitted: “I probably might have chosen different language.”
MP John Nicolson’s question: “Have you ever been offered a bribe?” Seb Coe: “No”
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) December 2, 2015
Coe expressed regret that Russian whistleblowers Vitaly and Yulia Stepanovs, a former Russian Anti-doping Agency (RUSADA) official and his athlete wife, had been forced into hiding.
“I’m clearly sorry,” Coe said. “I want whistle-blowers. This is not just lip-service.”
Prior to becoming IAAF vice-president in 2007, Coe was appointed as the first ethics commission chairman for world football’s governing body FIFA, an organisation currently mired in corruption allegations of its own.
He therefore has links to two of the biggest scandals in modern sport, but he was bullish when he was asked why people should believe that he is the right person to clean up athletics.
“Because I have the experience to do that. I have the support of the sport to do that,” said Coe, who won two Olympic gold medals in the 1500 metres during a glittering track career.
“Have there been failures? Yes. Will we fix them? Absolutely. I’m absolutely focused on doing that. If we don’t do that, there are no tomorrows for my sport. This is the crossroads.”
Coe described the recent revelations as a “horror show” and said that he was prepared to double the IAAF’s anti-doping budget, which currently stands at $4 million.
Budapest city council on Wednesday voted against holding a referendum on its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, just days after Hamburg residents rejected their city’s bid for the event.
Councillors voted 16-14 against the proposal to hold a referendum, which had been put forward by the opposition party.
Budapest mayor Istvan Tarlos described the motion as “political demagoguery”.
“From a political point-scoring point of view, ‘Let’s ask the people’ sounds good,” said Tarlos, an ally of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party.
The decision should rest with elected lawmakers however, he added.
“If decision-makers are unable to make decisions, then they are unfit for what they were voted for,” Tarlos told the assembly.
The Hungarian government, and parliament, as well as City Hall all backed the bid earlier this year.
Last Sunday, 51.6 percent of Hamburg voters said no to bidding for the event. Olympic organisers blamed the rejection on the terror attacks in Paris and worries about hosting costs.
— Hungary Today (@HungaryToday) December 2, 2015
Hamburg’s withdrawal left four contenders in the race: Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome.
Opinion polls in Hungary have shown a small majority in favour of hosting the games.
A referendum could still be held if enough signatures of Budapest residents were collected, but analysts consider it unlikely that the bid will be blocked.
The International Olympic Committee will make a decision in mid-2017.
The lawyer probing alleged corruption and covering up of doping offences in Kenya’s national athletics federation has received “many” offers of people wanting to provide evidence, he told AFP on Wednesday.
Sharad Rao, formerly Kenya’s deputy prosecutor, was appointed by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) Ethics Commission on Monday, to investigate three top Athletics Kenya (AK) officials, suspended due to graft allegations.
After just one full day on the job, Rao said he was pleased by the level of public support – and offers of help to ensure the inquiry is effective.
Many in Kenya fear doping is rife among their top class runners, who have been the source of enormous national pride.
“There has been a tremendous amount of goodwill, and from among the many messages I have received from people who have actually welcomed the inquiry and said they were prepared to come forward with information,” he told AFP. “So with that kind of cooperation, I think will make my job easier.”
Kiplagat, who led the national athletics federation for more than 20 years, was suspended along with his vice-president David Okeyo and former treasurer Joseph Kinyua over suspicions they had diverted sponsorship money from multinational sportswear giant Nike and subverted anti-doping controls, charges they all deny.
Their suspension was the latest hammer-blow to global track and field, with the IAAF ethics commission suspending them in the “interests of the integrity of the sport”.
Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper alleged last month that Okeyo, along with two other then-unnamed officials, had siphoned off $700,000 (650,000 euros) out of the federation’s bank account from a sponsorship deal between the national association and Nike.
3rd Kenyan official, Joseph Kinyua, ex Treasurer of Athletics Kenya & Kenya Team Leader at the 2015 World Championships, also suspended
— Dan Roan (@danroan) November 30, 2015
“The allegations which have been made… are very serious and warranted the investigation,” Rao said.
Kenya, under scrutiny amid allegations of widespread doping in world athletics, this month announced the establishment of an anti-doping agency, with the aim of easing concerns over the east African country’s internal anti-doping policy.
Dozens of Kenyan athletes have been suspended or banned since 2012 after testing positive for banned performance-enhancing drugs, among them marathon star Rita Jeptoo.
Rao also called on whistleblowers to come forward from among the country’s athletes and officials to provide information.
“Cooperation is really necessary,” Rao said. “Cooperation and willingness — like the athletes themselves — to come forward to tell us honestly what they know and what has been happening, without being vindictive against any of the three officials.”