The core issue about trust and the IAAF is this:
When reality knocked on the door in the form of the German documentary and other investigative pieces (not to mention the glaringly obvious realities of doping), Lord Coe led this response:
“This is war, we’ve done nothing to deserve this, we will not cower, we will fight”
But then reality barged the door down, and now the tune has changed:
“We are shocked. Shocked. Staggered. We didn’t know. But now that we do, we will fix it. Trust us!”
So basically, we are asked to give over and trust in either:
- An organization so out of touch and unaware of reality that its new leader didn’t know what its “spiritual leader” (Coe’s words), athletes and member federations were doing, even though he was there for seven years in a high-ranking position
- An organization that knew, but did nothing until reality was standing there, in their house, with the door lying in pieces
Neither scenario fills me with hope. So what’s the solution?
Coe could stay, and survive, and even be part of the solution, but it would take a 180-degree shift in his attitude, and historical precedent. It means inviting in the ‘so-called scientists’ and people like Renee Anne Shirley to lay bare all the cover-ups and denials. Imagine Ashenden, Parisotto, Shirley, plus independent officials charting the strategic solution.
Imagine inviting in journalists whose mandate is to expose EVERYTHING. One of the great problems is that the media become acolytes and enablers because access depends on it. Turn that around, and while the ugliness of the truth will cause discomfort, it may be the start of change. Nothing can be sacred.
It means bringing independent businesspeople in and then getting out of their way while they work to bring real corporate governance to the sport. That means people completely ‘untainted’ by association with any sport (it really is so ‘incestuous’ – remember that Coe was Chairman of FIFA’s Ethics Committee). Men and women who built and led trustworthy companies and charities, possibly without any involvement in sport, and then hold IAAF governance to a higher standard. It means using this as an opportunity to create transparency never seen before in a sport.
It also means taking the lead on what is an obvious part of the solution, which Pound alluded to in the report yesterday. That is, this current situation where national anti-doping agencies are tasked with policing their own athletes is not trustworthy, and is therefore untenable given the current cynicism.
This is the hardly the first instance where it’s been shown to be flawed, but the conflict of interests created when the nation who benefits from doping must catch and sanction its own athletes will never work. It’s either abused as we’re seeing, or it creates enormous imbalances in the level of anti-doping efforts from one country to the next (think Kenya and Jamaica).
Pound called for an independent body to take on the task of all anti-doping control. Whether that means giving WADA more powers, as opposed its oversight role of its signatory members, or the creation of a new agency, I don’t know. But the IAAF could implement exactly this in their own capacity. Set aside the millions that Coe promised to nations in his election campaign, and add a good slice of the TV revenue, and create that independent body for track and field. And again, get the hell out of the way.
If they did that, I’d be willing to give the IAAF (and WADA) the opportunity to change things around.
The good news: Assets and leverage
On a positive note, what any sport has going for it are two things:
1) Athletes who do want to compete clean, and who are genuinely, justifiably and righteously pissed off at how they’ve been let down by their own administrators. They have the kind of energy that can carry change if it is invested in.
2) Fans who want to believe. I know that we are skeptical, even cynical. Some maybe beyond “salvation”. But the core values and attributes that brought us to sport in the first place have not disappeared, they’ve just been buried under a pile of deceit, and if that is genuinely cleared away, then I think the goodwill can return.
But we are tired of the half-truths, deflections, outright lies and patronizing attitude.
All the Russia cases shows is that we’re seeing the latest version of a doping culture and attitude that we know began in the 1960s. It may have morphed, taken on a different guise, but it’s the same thing in a different era. And with that truth should come the realization that the same doping that tainted the Ben Johnson 1988 100m race remains alive today too (there were no Russians in that race, remember).
So too, the doping of cycling in 1990s remains alive, though it looks different. Doping in cycling didn’t start with Lance, it didn’t end with Lance, as much as some media love that narrative.
This stuff doesn’t just disappear, it adapts. Why would it vanish? The same or greater incentives exist, and clearly, there’s no appetite from sports to completely eradicate it. Some even saw it as their retirement nest-egg (the industrious Lamine Diack).
So we move forward, in pursuit of clean sport, but constantly seeking ‘marginal gains’ (yeah, doping is on the table as one of those), and we end up where we began, just with a little more sophistication, and a touch of good old-fashioned bribery and extortion.
If that doesn’t end, we’ll never get out of this orbit. Track and Field has the chance to break it.