By Martyn Herman
The two men bidding to lead world athletics into a new era, Sebastian Coe and Sergey Bubka, offered contrasting reactions on Wednesday to the latest doping storm to engulf the sport’s governing IAAF.
While Coe, who is going head-to-head with fellow Olympic champion Bubka to win the election to become president of athletics’ world governing body in August, went on the attack, his rival offered a more conciliatory tone.
A damning report in British newspaper The Sunday Times and by German broadcaster ARD/WDR at the weekend accused the IAAF of failing to investigate hundreds of “suspicious” drug tests between 2001 and 2012, raising new questions about the sport just weeks before the Aug. 22-30 world championships in Beijing.
The IAAF hit back in a strongly-worded statement on Tuesday and vice-president Coe, who said the claims were “a declaration of war” on athletics, offered an impassioned defence of the sport he graced as twice Olympic 1,500m champion.
“I don’t think anyone should underestimate the anger which is felt in our sport in the betrayal of the last few days of our sport,” Coe, who won gold at the 1980 and 1984 Games, told the BBC on Wednesday.
“That in some way we sit on our hands, at best, and at worst are complicit in a cover up, that is just not borne out by anything we have done as a sport in the past 15 years.
“We have led the way on out-of-competition independent testing, we have led the way on laboratories, we were the first sport to have arbitration panels, we introduced blood passports in 2009 because we wanted to elevate the science around weeding out the cheats.”
Fellow International Association of Athletics Federations vice-president Bubka, the 1988 Olympic pole vault champion, said the sport should be more transparent.
“Athletics is the most fundamental of all sports and the way the world sees athletics influences the way it views all sports,” he said in a statement.
“We cannot fail because the world would lose faith not only in athletics but in other sports and that would be a catastrophe for young people worldwide.
“We must be more proactive and even more transparent in our aggressive pursuit of a zero tolerance policy against doping cheats.”
The two news organisations making the claims said they had obtained ‘secret’ test data from the vaults of the IAAF, supplied by a whistleblower disgusted by the extent of doping in track and field.
The reports said 800 of the 12,000 blood tests involving 5,000 athletes were suspicious, indicating suspected widespread blood doping in athletics between 2001 and 2012.
Coe disputes the findings.
“What has angered me and angered our sport is the betrayal that we are doing absolutely nothing when we have led the way on this and have consistently done so,” he said.
“Every athlete at the world championships in 2011 and 2013 was subject to blood tests, that’s unprecedented. We spend two million dollars a year (on anti-doping) and we are not a rich sport, we have 10 full time professionals.”
The 58-year-old Coe, who hopes to replace long-serving IAAF president Lamine Diack, pointed to the fact that the governing body has a strong track record in rooting out cheats.
“We have got some of the highest profile names out of the sport in the last few years,” he said.
“This has caused us intense embarrassment but we have always taken the view that we would rather have short-term embarrassment and protect the clean athletes.”
He poured scorn on the idea that the IAAF had not shared blood-testing data with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“The assumption that we are not sharing this information is wholly false,” he said.