Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Athletics boss Sebastian Coe: The other president in world sports

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The Russian Athletics Association will likely be able to avert exclusion from the World Athletics (WA) association. The Russian state steps in again. Minister of Sports Oleg Matytsin, who also serves as President of the World Federation of Student Sports (FISU), guaranteed the World Athletics Association at its last minute board meeting that it would pay the outstanding punitive tariff totaling $ 6.31 million. The money must be in the WA account by August 15th.

“It was an excruciating, frustrating process,” said WA President Sebastian Coe after the board meeting. The Russia issue overshadows its presidency, which began in August 2015. At that time, World Athletics was still called IAAF – and Coe exuberantly praised his predecessor Lamine Diack. In the meantime, Diack has been exposed as head of a criminal clan and awaits him in prison for several years in old age.

And Coe acts as if he had never heard of the Diack family’s criminal activities and IAAF employees, which had dominated for a decade and a half. He feels like another long-time IAAF Vice President: German Helmut Digel.

The 63-year-old Sebastian Newbold Coe, Baron Coe, Olympic champion and organizer of the 2012 Summer Games in London, still sells himself as a innovator in world athletics. He prefers to look ahead, even if that’s difficult, especially the criminal investigation and the Russia problem are heavy burdens that could cause problems for other WA officials and Coe at any time.

The Coe balance is rather positive

But still: Compared to the presidents of many other Olympic world associations and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Lord Coe cuts an exceptionally good figure. Nobody can parley like he does, the former politician is a full professional. Coe has a lot to show in the almost five years of his presidency: The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), founded in 2017, is worth mentioning. This institution is exemplary in world sports. Yes, the World Association finances the AIU with several million dollars annually and is therefore also in financial difficulties. However, the AIU is actually investigating very thoroughly and regardless of the reputation of the person in all cases of manipulation, doping, corruption and crime.

There are day and night differences between the AIU institution and the so-called ethics committees of other Olympic organizations. This became clear again on Thursday: After the Swiss judiciary has started criminal investigations against FIFA President Gianni Infantino, the corresponding ethics committees of FIFA and the IOC should actually act. In other, less prominent cases, provisional suspensions have been made. The IOC also likes to resort to the absurd means of so-called self-suspension.

In any case, nothing can be expected from the FIFA Ethics Committee; Infantino has shaped this body and the rules and regulations since 2016 according to his taste. And the IOC ethics committee? She had no objection when it came to admitting Infantino to the IOC. At the time, the processes leading to the criminal investigation were already known and well documented.

Infantino and Coe are both ex-officio members of the IOC. As presidents of two important world associations, they received the highest Olympic orders. Infantino took the Olympic oath at the IOC session in Lausanne in January. At that time, Coe was not considered good enough because of his work for the CSM agency. There was talk of conflicts of interest.

Indeed, such conflicts have accompanied the British for many years, also in a variety of advisory functions, for example for the sporting goods group Nike. CSM is an important player in the business, earns a lot of money in the business with dictatorships, for example, developed the concepts for the first European Games in Baku and the Asian indoor games in Ashgabat. In Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the despots Aliyev and Berdimuhamedow also act as presidents of the respective National Olympic Committees.

How did Coe solve the problem of IOC membership this year? His compatriot Princess Anne, who is responsible for the candidate check for new members at the IOC, said at the virtual IOC session two weeks ago that Coe was listed as managing director on the CSM website, but that he was no longer operational. Of course, Coe continues to be the central figure at CSM.

Coe probably never becomes IOC president

At the IOC, however, Coe has no great future. According to the WA regulations, he may preside three terms of office; he can be re-elected as chief in 2023 until 2027. If he then resigns as WA president, his membership in the IOC automatically ends. Coe celebrates its 70th birthday in 2027, which means that it will also reach the age limit for the IOC. Discussions about an IOC President Coe, which has been held in the British media for several years, can be safely forgotten. In the IOC, Thomas Bach will remain at the top until 2025, at least.

Bach and Coe have a common Olympic history. Both belonged to the hand-picked first IOC athletes commission in 1981. The then IOC Pope Juan Antonio Samaranch had very well recognized the skills and ambitions of the two. For decades, Coe and Bach acted side by side when there were points of contact. That only changed decisively in the Russia saga about state doping. Coe, which was also important, was under enormous pressure in his British homeland. And he acted comparatively rigorously.

But he was never a real opponent of Bach. The relationship between the two is clouded, that is, and will never be as carefree as it once was. After the recent WA Council meeting, Coe said: “It was no big help that we were often lonely callers who had to work the field alone.” Such sentences can of course be viewed as a quiet criticism of the IOC. But one shouldn’t interpret much more into it. Because when in doubt, Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe stick together like bad luck and sulfur. Both are Olympic champions. Olympism is their dominant religion.

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