By John Leicester ,AP
MUNICH, Germany — One short plane ride, one small step on track and field’s marathon road to redemption.
Sebastian Coe could have locked himself in a dark room, hands covering his ears and yelling “Not listening! Not listening!” rather than board a flight to Germany to hear first-hand how the sport he leads appears to have been worm-riddled with corruption.
Taking a seat among hundreds of journalists with pens as sharp as knives, absorbing with them the appalling findings from World Anti-Doping Agency investigators and French prosecutors of cash-stuffed envelopes, cover-ups and alleged blackmailing of athletes cannot have been comfortable for the British former middle-distance running great. Face the Music But facing the music was the right thing to do.
The IAAF president’s unexpected presence in Munich (he told surprised colleagues a few days beforehand that he wanted to be there for the release of the damning WADA findings) sent the message that he is not running from the gravity of the corruption crisis that could still sink the International Association of Athletics Federations, and Coe with, it if not handled smartly or should more skeletons emerge from its closet.
Coe got an advance look at the WADA report, so he knew what he was walking into. And he came away from what could otherwise have been a relentlessly grim day in Munich with a helpful endorsement from the head of the WADA probe, International Olympic Committee veteran Dick Pound, which showed that one thing that never changes in sports is the habit of administrators to stick together and watch each other’s backs.
Still, slowly but more surely, Coe does seem to be getting it, to have understood that the bitter medicine for the IAAF necessarily includes him, as its new leader, swallowing his ample pride and eating lots of humble pie.
Having argued the exact opposite just a day earlier, Coe conceded, almost willingly, that there were cover-ups under the regime of Lamine Diack, his predecessor whose praises Coe sang when he replaced him in August as IAAF president.
Coe said he was grateful to WADA’s investigation for having opened his eyes to the full extent of the sickness that infected track and field’s global governing body under Diack. Coe was then one of five vice presidents on its ruling council.
The WADA report charged that council members must have known about the nepotism that saw Diack install two sons and his legal counsel in a “powerful rogue group” that allegedly corrupted the IAAF from within.
Under the noses of Coe and others, the shadow “informal, illegitimate” leadership took over management of Russian doping cases and then conspired to extort doped athletes, allowing them to compete when they should have been banned, the report alleged.
“This is a very complex, deeply painful process for the sport to go through,” Coe said after sitting through the investigators’ news conference, sounding more contrite than ever. “The road to redemption here is not going to be swift or easy.”