Sebastian Coe faces new questions about corruption
Dave Bedford’s answers in parliament today look to be opposite of what Coe answered
Sebastian Coe faces fresh questions about what he knew of corruption within athletics. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Sebastian Coe faces fresh questions about what he knew of corruption within athletics before his election as president of the sport’s governing body the IAAF after MPs heard evidence that “undermined” his claims of ignorance.
Coe told the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in December 2015 that he was unaware of any specific allegations about the extent of Russian doping or that senior IAAF officials were extorting money from Russian athletes to bury positive drug tests until German broadcaster ARD broke the story on December 3rd, 2014.
But Dave Bedford told the same committee today that he had called and emailed Coe to warn him about the scandal in August 2014 and had then spoken to him about a related matter on November 21st, two weeks before the ARD broadcast.
Coe told MPs he simply forwarded Bedford’s emails to the IAAF’s new ethics board without reading them properly or opening the attached documents.
Bedford, the former London Marathon race director and chairman of the IAAF’s road racing commission, said he was “very surprised and quite disappointed” when he heard Coe say that.
In summing up his evidence to the committee, Conservative MP Nigel Huddleston said it was clear that Bedford’s answers had “undermined” Coe’s version of events.
Within minutes of the session finishing, committee chairman Damian Collins confirmed that he would be asking Coe to return to parliament to clarify his 2015 answers by the end of this month.
Bedford’s testimony lasted 90 minutes and he spent the first half an hour explaining the background to how he was first alerted to the scale of Russia’s cheating and the corrupt behaviour of IAAF president Lamine Diack’s inner circle of advisors.
The 67-year-old Englishman, a former world 10,000 metres record-holder, said he was first warned about Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova in late 2011 but the details of the scandal did not start to emerge until early 2014.
That was when Shobukhova’s agent Andrey Baranov told IAAF official Sean Wallace-Jones, a friend of Bedford’s, that his runner had sent large sums of money to the IAAF, via the Russian athletics federation, to halt anti-doping proceedings against her.
Bedford then facilitated an official complaint from Baranov, counter-signed by Wallace-Jones, to Michael Beloff, the chairman of the IAAF’s ethics board, in April 2014 and put Baranov in contact with leading sports lawyer Mike Morgan.
But having heard nothing back from Beloff, Bedford told the MPs that he started to worry about a cover-up and thought he should warn Coe, who he knew to be considering a run at the IAAF presidency in 2015, about what was happening and who he could trust.
He then explained, as the BBC’s Panorama and Daily Mail first revealed last June, that he called Coe in August to tell him he would be sending him some emails, with attached documents. Coe, then an IAAF vice-president, was apparently walking in the Swiss mountains with his son when he received this call.
Bedford then emailed Coe, with Shobukhova’s name in the header, and texted him a week later to ask if he had got them. He received no reply. He followed up with another text in September and again received no reply.
In November, Bedford met Morgan who told him that he did not know who to trust at the IAAF any more and Bedford tried to set up an informal meeting with Coe.
Bedford, who described his relationship with Coe as “friendly but we’re not friends”, told MPs that he met the double Olympic champion at an athletics writers’ lunch on November 21st and they discussed the proposed meeting with Morgan.
Crucially, Bedford told MPs that while he had not been told by Coe if he or had not read his emails, he was certain that Coe was aware of what they were about. Coe eventually decided that he could not meet Morgan, under legal advice, as he was acting for a complainant against the IAAF.
The upshot of this timeline, as Huddleston and Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson pointed out to Bedford, is that it does not tally with Coe’s answers in December 2015 that he did not know about the Shobukhova affair and allegations surrounding Diack until the ARD broadcast.
Despite repeated attempts by the MPs, Bedford refused to say if he believed Coe’s claim that he had not read his emails or not.
In response to one such question, Bedford said: “I don’t think it matters if I believe him or not. I was surprised that he said that and that goes some way to answering that question.”
Earlier, Bedford had said he agreed with the MPs that it was “strange” Coe had forwarded his emails to Beloff as he had not asked him to do so and had already told him that Beloff had the material.
He also said it was “without doubt” that Coe knew about the Shobukhova case when they spoke on November 21st, a fortnight before the ARD broadcast.
When asked for a personal view on why Coe may have chosen to remain, in Nicolson’s words, “wilfully ignorant” of what was happening at the IAAF, Bedford said he thought his compatriot had decided the best way he could help save athletics was to get elected, which effectively meant staying on the right side of Diack.
In a lighter moment, Bedford described Diack, who ran athletics for 17 years but now faces criminal charges in France, as a “difficult man to have a conversation with” and somebody you just “listened to” because of his “god-like status”.
Bedford added that he still believed Coe was the only man capable of saving the sport and should be measured on what he has done to reform the IAAF since taking over in August 2015.
But he did criticise Coe’s 2015 claim that athletics was “under attack” from the media, saying if he had said that he would regret it.