Russian doping scandal

Dave Bedford backs Sebastian Coe to lead world athletics despite ignoring doping test blackmail allegations

International Association of Athletics Federations president failed to respond to messages regarding claims by Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova in August 2014

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 5:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 January, 2017, 7:36pm

British former world record holder Dave Bedford has backed Sebastian Coe as “the right man to lead” world athletics despite telling a British Parliamentary Committee earlier this month the now International Association of Athletics Federations president ignored “extremely serious allegations” of a blackmail case over a failed doping test.

Bedford told the Culture Media and Sports Committee that in August 2014 he had sent Coe, who was then the vice-president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) before winning the presidential race in August 2015, an email with an attachment that contained an explosive allegation.

Andrey Baranov, the agent of Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova, claimed she had been blackmailed by Russian and IAAF officials including Papa Missata Diack, the son of then IAAF president Lamine Diack, to the sum of €450,000 (HK$3.7 million) over a failed dope test.

Bedford, who had initially alerted the two-time Olympic champion to a potential problem with a phone call when he was on holiday in Switzerland earlier that month, admitted Coe is not renowned for replying to emails so he followed it up with a text that also went unanswered.

Coe claims he never opened the attachment and sent it on to the IAAF Ethics Commission, which Bedford had already done, and the first he knew of the allegations was in a German documentary in December 2014.

Former two-time 1500m Olympic champion Coe has led a raft of reforms since replacing disgraced predecessor Lamine Diack as IAAF president and saw his reform package adopted by athletics’ governing body at the end of last year.

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Asked to return to face the Culture Media and Sports Committee following Bedford’s claims, Coe said he had “no further information he can provide to the inquiry”.

The committee, which is led by chairman Damian Collins, cannot force Coe to appear because he is a fellow parliamentarian as he now sits in the unelected House of Lords.

Bedford said he enjoys “friendly relations” with Coe and went even further ahead of Sunday’s Gammon China Coast Marathon at Pak Tam Chung, where he was guest of honour, by saying: “Seb Coe is the right man to lead the IAAF, I am 100 per cent confident in that.

“What he’s done in a short period of time is already starting to clean the whole thing up, and it needed cleaning up.

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“Only Seb will do it. There’s no one else there strong enough to do it, and I have complete faith in him to deliver.”

Bedford told the committee he was surprised at learning Coe had not opened the attachment, but would not be coaxed when pressed by a member of the all-party group into saying his reaction was one of disbelief.

However, committee chairman Collins said Bedford’s evidence had provided enough reason for Coe to be recalled and preferably to appear by the end of January.

“Sebastian Coe’s testimony to us lacked credibility based on what Dave Bedford said today,” Collins said.

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“Quite aside from the email, Bedford had spoken to him, he’d texted him and brought it up at a lunch that November. Throughout that entire period Coe had knowledge of the allegations. He said to us he had no knowledge so we want to question him about the matter further, and why he didn’t open the documents.

“As we conclude our inquiry on doping in sport, there are understandably questions that arise for us about this, and in particular the level of knowledge that Lord Coe had about the serious allegations that had been made.

“That is his interpretation. But these are extremely serious allegations being made about officials from the sport’s governing body colluding to cover up dope tests.

“After four months’ silence he was raising his concerns after sticking his head in the sand.”

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Bedford set a world record in the 10,000 metres in 1973 and he went on to become race director of the London Marathon for 20 years following his retirement.

He believes the drug problems that have caused harm to the sport he has dedicated his life to will soon be eradicated with athletes facing a four-year ban for a first offence and stiff financial penalties.

The IAAF is still dealing with the fallout from Richard McLaren’s report for the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) exposing the huge scale of state-sponsored, systematic doping and cover-ups in Russia, which led to Russian track and field athletes prohibited from travelling to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games last year.

“Our sport has been significantly damaged by athletes taking drugs, by our testing procedures until recently not being good enough for the job, and by corruption at the highest level at the IAAF,” said Bedford.

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“But a first offence now sees a four-year ban, and at the end of that ban the athlete has to repay all of the prize monies fraudulently won.

“People in life don’t like giving money back, so in many cases they will in fact have a lifetime ban because they won’t want to pay the money back. Those that want to continue will have to repay the money, and so for the first time we have a fair way to deal with people that cheat.

“If the penalty was a lifetime ban, no one would even think about drink driving. Just think about it. But when you only have to serve a one-year ban people are prepared to take the risk.

“The IAAF spent 20 years saying we don’t need penalties, we need education. Forget it, we’re human beings. We need to be scared of the penalties.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse