Sebastian Coe facing his toughest race as he leads corruption-hit IAAF out of mire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 12:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 November, 2015, 2:43pm

While soccer's controlling body Fifa struggles to put a corruption scandal behind it and turn a new page, athletics appears set to move forward under the newly elected leadership of an icon of the sport, double Olympic 1,500 metres champion and London Olympic Games organiser Sebastian Coe. But the contrast between a house divided and a house at peace ends there. Coe faces a challenge to athletics' image unlike any he overcame in his illustrious track career.

Soccer's troubles are confined to Fifa officials. Top players and tournaments remain untainted. The public still takes it seriously at international level. But athletics' troubles originate from individual cheating by competitors at the highest level. IAAF officials have fought for decades to preserve the integrity of the sport and the prestige of its elite competitions, using mandatory drug testing and lengthy competition bans to shore up the confidence of fans and sponsors.

Coe's challenge is to save the IAAF from new allegations that it has been complicit for years in inaction on widespread doping suspicions. The IAAF has been rocked by charges that it failed to act on hundreds of suspicious results revealed in a four-year-old report on thousands of blood tests leaked to the media. The study was funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency, Wada, which gave IAAF power to veto publication in return for access to athletes at the 2011 world championships.

The IAAF has dismissed these claims as "sensationalist and confusing". Vowing zero tolerance for drug cheats, Coe said the provisional suspension of 28 athletes for suspected doping at the 2005 and 2007 world titles - uncovered by new technology - was proof of the organisation's desire to root out cheats.

For the sake of perceptions of the sport's integrity, we trust it succeeds, lest its showpiece events suffer a fate similar to that of cycling classic the Tour de France. Many find it difficult to take this event seriously in the wake of doping revelations and disqualifications.