Sebastian Coe will defy a summons from the British House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee to answer further questions about what he knew about the extent of IAAF corruption and Russian doping by the end of January because he believes he has nothing new to tell them.
Damian Collins, the chair of the committee, called for the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations to return to parliament after hearing testimony from former London marathon race director Dave Bedford. That testimony, Collins said, had "presented clear and important questions" over when Coe first heard about marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova being extorted for $450,000 (€426,000) by IAAF and Russian officials.
However, the IAAF said that Coe had little else to tell MPs despite Bedford’s testimony.
“Today’s evidence has offered nothing new to the committee’s inquiry into ‘Combatting Doping in Sport’,” it said. “All information including the emails central to their questioning today were sent to their committee chair in June 2016 and acknowledged. Based upon this Coe has no further information he can provide to the inquiry.
“As we have previously confirmed, Coe’s number one priority was to ensure that the right people in the right place were aware of any allegations and were investigating them. This was confirmed when his office forwarded the emails to the man Coe trusted the most, Michael Beloff QC, the chair of the then recently established IAAF ethics commission, receipt of which Beloff acknowledged.”
Earlier Bedford told MPs that he made several attempts to tell Coe about the Shobukhova case in August 2014 – including a phone call, an email with an attachment detailing what had gone on and text messages. He also told MPs that when he spoke to Coe on November 21st at a British Athletics Writers’ Association lunch he “had no inkling from that conversation that he was not aware of the subject matter in general terms”.
Bedford said he had first called Coe to tell him about the case when he was walking in the mountains with his son.
“It was a short conversation,” he told MPs. “I asked him was he aware of the allegations that had been put forward put to the ethics committee related to Liliya Shobukhova. And he said no, and I said, ‘In that case I am going to forward by email copies of the documents, because I believe you need to see them’.”
After sending Coe the email on August 8th and getting no response, Bedford followed up with another text message, to which Coe again did not reply.
Bedford said: “The next flurry of activity happened on September 24th when I heard that Gabriel Dolle, who was the head of the anti-doping team, was leaving. I sent Seb a text which said, ‘I hear Dolle is leaving at the end of the week, push or walk? Hope this is not the start of a cover-up’. I got no response to it.”
Coe has always maintained that while he received the email from Bedford in August 2014 he had never opened the attachment which outlined how Shobukhova had been blackmailed because he thought the most important thing to do was to refer it straight to the IAAF’s independent ethics committee.
Lack of curiosity
Last year the ethics committee banned several of those named in the document, including Papa Massata Diack, a former IAAF marketing executive and the son of former president Lamine Diack, Valentin Balakhnichev, former president of the Russian athletics federation and IAAF treasurer, and Alexei Melnikov, former chief coach for Russian endurance athletes. Dolle, meanwhile, was banned for five years.
Bedford was asked by MPs whether he found it strange that Coe forwarded on his email to Beloff without opening the attachment. “It is fair to say I was very surprised and quite disappointed,” he said.
The Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson suggested to Bedford that given Coe had been brought in to clean up athletics, his lack of curiosity about corruption was “extraordinary”.
In his reply Bedford suggested that Coe might have been playing the long game, waiting to see if he could get elected in August 2015 so that he could make significant changes to the IAAF.
“If you look at what has happened subsequently to him, being elected to a position of power, there are clear implications that he wants the integrity of our sport brought back and he has made significant steps towards that happening,” he said.
“I think that it might be true that he decided that the best way he could help the sport was to make sure that he got elected as president, because if it didn’t happen then there was no future for the sport.”