Lord Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, is set to act decisively on the findings of World Anti Doping Agency’s investigation on large-scale doping in athletics. WADA’s independent investigation indicted the Russian government, its athletics federation, anti-doping agency and athletes. It recommended banning Russia from the Rio Olympics in 2016 and immediate withdrawal of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory’s accreditation. Coe sought urgent approval from IAAF members to consider sanctions against Russian Athletics Federation including possibility of a ban.
The WADA investigation was headed by the agency’s former boss Richard Pound. It found fault with WADA for being “unduly tentative with signatories in requiring compliance to anti-doping rules”.
Part two of its report on other national federations and athletic federations is expected within four months. The present report is a warning signal to Athletics Federation of India and National Anti Doping Agency.
Coe spoke to THE WEEK on the challenges that athletics, the IAAF and the AFI face in relation to the doping scourge, as well as finding the right balance between accountability and autonomy. Excerpts:
You took charge when world athletics was facing serious allegations of widespread doping. Expectations from the WADA investigation report?
We have a very strong position on doping in my sport. It’s non-negotiable. I have always stood—right from the time of being an athlete to a federation president—in the corner of clean athletes and to make sure we retain trust within the sport. I will do everything I can to do for that. We have a good record. We have been the lead sport in the number of competitors that we have tested. Every athlete who has participated in the IAAF World Championships in 2008, 2011 and 2015 has been tested. We were the first to introduce the blood passport, arbitration panels and accredited labs. Is there more we can do? Yes, but I think every organisation can probably say that but our sport is not the only sport that has that challenge and we take the issue very seriously.
India may not be a power in world athletics in terms of medals but doping is an issue in Indian athletics. Your comments.
I know the federation now is putting in systems that are very tough. In the past only 100 athletes were being tested. Now 1,000 are being tested. I know the AFI president Adille Sumariwalla takes it very seriously. A large part of my time here was spent talking to the federation about the systems that they have in place. We also have to remember that we are also dependent on the quality of our NADA. IAAF is not the world policeman here, WADA is.
The AFI is trying to impress the IAAF by saying that athletes are being tested regularly, but mostly those tested are either at the junior level or at the inter-departmental level.
We work very closely with federations and that’s the way it should be. The details on that are better answered by Sumariwalla.
The biggest crisis in India with all federations is that while they are solely dependent on public funding, they shirk from being transparent.
Yes, it’s always a delicate balance but it is very important that sports remains autonomous and independent. Federations should be able to fashion their future in the way they see fit but every sport requires good governance.
How challenging is it when federations largely dependent on government funding also have autonomy issues to deal with?
We have many federations which are dependent on public funding in the United Kingdom, but the government does not interfere in the day-to-day workings of that federation. There is always that delicate balance, but I think good sports will always find that middle way.