Coe holds fort

"The reason you have testing systems is actually to protect clean athletes. It is not just simply to remove those who cheat from our sport. We need to make sure that the public believes that what they watch in our stadiums are legitimate," says the IAAF chief, Sebastian Coe.

Sebastian Coe, the President of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), at a press conference in New Delhi.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Sebastian Coe with former Indian athletes Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Shiny Wilson, Anju Bobby George and others during an interaction with young athletes at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Sebastian Coe, an Olympic middle-distance champion runner in his heyday, has taken over as the President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in difficult times.

For his first visit as the IAAF chief, he chose India, the land where his mother was born, and joined hands with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) to set up a high performance centre in Delhi.

Coe also touched upon various topics related to world athletics during his two-day tour to India.

Excerpts:

On the status of investigation into the latest doping controversy:

I am not in a position to understand some particular elements because they are subjects of some external reports. WADA is looking into issues of some National challenges and the IAAF Ethics Committee has looked to some specific allegations that have been made in the media. The work of those groups is independent.

On the IAAF’s efforts to curb doping:

Our sport has a very good and proud record in the efforts we have made. Whether it is introduction of blood passports or arbitration boards or accredited laboratories we have done very well. But we also recognise that we can’t do it alone. The work of the national anti-doping agencies is also very important.

On the dope testing process:

I think the gap between a sample that is tested positive and a sanction is often too long. Anybody who knows some of the issues and protocols in anti-doping, knows you have to get it right, athletes’ careers are at stake, you cannot make an error. But I think we can introduce faster systems. Relieving member federations of some of the testing procedures and allowing more international testing of independent nature I think can make a difference.

On doping controversies creating credibility issues:

Our sport tests more than any other sport. Usain Bolt is the most tested athlete, male or female, in any sport in the planet. In the media the reality and perception get badly entangled. The reason you have testing systems is actually to protect clean athletes. It is not just simply to remove those who cheat from our sport. We need to make sure that the public believes that what they watch in our stadiums are legitimate.

On athletics getting a bad name for positive tests:

Sometimes we pay a high price for the amount of testing we do. If you don’t test you don’t catch. I would rather have the embarrassment of a positive test than knowing we are not doing enough in our testing procedures to weed out those who cheat. But with that comes reputational damage.

On the Values Commission:

I am creating a Values Commission in November that will help young people understand the values of our sport, because often we focus on our anti-doping programme, our Ethics Committee, on discipline, on sanction. Actually, allowing athletes to really understand why it is important to do their sport with integrity and in a clean way is a part of that programme.

On the IAAF’s role in helping member nations:

Our responsibility must be to make sure that everything we do at the centre in the IAAF should enable the member federations to deliver the sport effectively. The responsibility of the council of my colleagues is to make sure we are really delivering resources according to local need and not what we think that need is sitting in the headquarters. For me there are two key client groups: 1. The member federations and 2. The athletes. If you get it right for both these groups then your sport will be a strong sport.

On working with India:

There is a lot we can learn globally — the way young people particularly in India communicate with each other. Through the social medium, sport can be a very big beneficiary. And I want to make sure track and field develops alongside that. The Indian economy is the third largest and fastest growing one in the world. This is a massive opportunity for track and field to benefit in that growth.

On India not winning athletics medals in the Olympics:

Remember this, statistically, it is tougher for any athlete to win a track and field medal in the World Championship or the Olympics than in any other sport in the world. What I have witnessed in the last few years is that the 2010 CWG made a big difference to the level of ambition in Indian track and field whether to compete or to challenge or be the best in the world.

On Kenya and Jamaica winning big medals:

Often one of the most important ingredients is the quality and presence of track and field in school programmes and physical education. Both in Kenya and Jamaica, you have very strong school programmes.

On athletics’ future after Usain Bolt:

Our sport is simply not about Bolt. We have great competitors like David Rudisha, Valerie Adams. Our sport does not come to an end when Usain Bolt retires. We will have to accept that not since Muhammad Ali has an athlete captured the imagination as Usain Bolt has. Our responsibility is to know we market and promote other great athletes. Great athletes will come along. Bolt came through the school system in Jamaica and every record Bolt set as a youngster in school has been broken by Jamaican athletes.