Lord Coe 'misled' MP's over extent of Russian doping as IAAF accused of burying drug-cheat revelations

Ben Rumsby
The Telegraph
IAAF president Lord Coe giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee - AFP
IAAF president Lord Coe giving evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee - AFP

Lord Coe has been found to have given “misleading” and “frankly risible” testimony to parliament about drug-taking in athletics.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, which Coe leads, was also adjudged to have shown “an apparent desire to suppress revelations about doping in sport” in a scathing report by MPs.

Conservative peer Coe, the architect of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, was singled out by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee over the evidence he gave near the start of its two-year inquiry which resulted in its report, Combating Doping in Sport.

The IAAF president told MPs in December 2015 that he had been unaware of “specific allegations” related to the Russian doping scandal prior to it becoming public, only for David Bedford, the former head of the governing body’s road running commission, to testify that he had repeatedly tried to warn Coe about the looming crisis.

That included emailing Coe information that the former London Marathon winner, Liliya Shobukhova, had paid officials hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover up positive tests, something Bedford had already provided to the IAAF’s ethics commission.

<span>Former London Marathon winner Lilya Shobukhova</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
Former London Marathon winner Lilya Shobukhova Credit: AP

Coe was summoned to reappear before parliament as a result but instead responded in writing, stating he had not read the email and had forwarded it to an independent ethics commission. Branding Coe’s 2015 evidence “misleading”, the select committee wrote in its report: “It stretches credibility to believe that he was not aware … of the main allegations that the ethics commission had been asked to investigate.

“It is certainly disappointing that Lord Coe did not take the opportunity, given to him by David Bedford, to make sure he was fully informed of the serious issues at stake in the Shobukhova case and their wider implications for the governance of the anti-doping rules at the IAAF. These are matters of the greatest seriousness and affect the reputation of both the IAAF and Lord Coe, and we commend David Bedford for his stance and evidence in shedding more light on this sad state of affairs.

“We wish, in the future, to see rigorous systems in place to deal with such matters and individuals acting with curiosity and concern when presented with compelling, important evidence.” It added: “We note the progress that the IAAF is making in establishing more independent processes for the investigation of serious complaints brought by whistle-blowers. However, the Shobukhova case raises concerns about whether national or international sports federations are capable of investigating themselves when the allegations involve senior figures within the organisation itself. There is a real danger that internal politics inevitably play a part in the process.”

The IAAF was condemned over its blocking of the publication of an academic paper, prepared by the University of Tubingen, on the prevalence of doping in track and field, with its reasons for doing so branded “entirely spurious”.

Of the study, which the committee itself published in 2015 under parliamentary privilege, the report said: “Lord Coe’s assertion that there was no need for the IAAF to publish the document because it was available via the committee website is frankly risible.”

The report went on: “We find the IAAF’s stated reasons for blocking publication of the study to be unconvincing, and we are concerned that their behaviour indicates a lack of transparency and, worse, an apparent desire to suppress revelations about doping in sport.”

Coe was also criticised for describing allegations of widespread doping as “a declaration of war on our sport” when he was running for the IAAF presidency. The report said: “The emerging picture is of a prevalence of doping in athletics which was greater than was officially recognised when this inquiry began. The work of whistle-blowers and investigative journalists has helped to bring this to the fore. Rather than their work being tantamount to a ‘declaration of war’ on sport, a very ill-judged statement, it should be seen as a warning light that was acted upon too late."

A statement from the IAAF read: "The IAAF takes the fight against doping very seriously. Over the last 14 months (since the IAAF provided information to the DCMS Select Committee), the organisation has introduced a set of wide-sweeping reforms to revamp the governance of the sport, made 200 changes to its constitution, set up an independent Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) that is a world first in sport, and suspended the Russian Member Federation. 

"This suspension continues as a taskforce chaired by independent expert Rune Andersen works with RusAF on a clear set of criteria for reinstatement. In addition, on the basis of the findings of the AIU, 5 countries have been put on an anti-doping ‘watch list’, with clear actions for remediation. 

"We thank the DCMS Select Committee for acknowledging the work that has been done by the IAAF in the last year.  In addition, we will write to them to explain some of the more complex aspects of anti-doping that have been misunderstood, and will seek to have all of the documents that the IAAF provided to the Committee placed on the DCMS website, as some of it appears to be missing."

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