London (AP) – Describing the latest doping allegations leveled against track and field as a “declaration of war,” Sebastian Coe rushed to the defense of the IAAF’s drug-testing system Tuesday and said it was time to “come out fighting” to protect the reputation of the sport.
In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Coe gave his first extensive comments following reports by German and British media outlets alleging that the IAAF had failed to act on suspicious blood tests involving hundreds of athletes over a 10-year period.
Sebastian Coe. (AP Photo/Stephen Hindley)
“It is a declaration of war on my sport,” Coe, an IAAF vice president, told the AP. “I take pretty grave exception to that. This, for me, is a fairly seminal moment. There is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug-testing that warrants this kind of attack. We should not be cowering. We should come out fighting.”
Just weeks before the world championships in Beijing, the sport was thrown into turmoil after German broadcaster ARD and The Sunday Times newspaper in Britain alleged that blood doping was rampant, citing test results from an International Association of Athletics Federations database that were leaked by a whistleblower.
“Nobody should underestimate the anger at the way our sport has been portrayed,” said Coe, who is a candidate for IAAF president in elections later this month. “The fightback has to start here. We cannot be portrayed as a sport that is in any way dragging our heels.”
The media reports examined the results of 12,000 blood tests involving 5,000 athletes from 2001 to 2012, and concluded that 800 were suspicious. The reports said that 146 medals — including 55 golds — in disciplines ranging from the 800 meters to the marathon at the Olympics and world championships were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious tests.
“The use of that database, however it got into their possession, displayed either breathtaking ignorance or a level of malevolence around a set of readings you simply cannot extrapolate beyond,” Coe said. “The idea that my sport sat there either covering up wrongdoing or just being incompetent could not be wider of the mark.”
Coe, the middle-distance great who organized the 2012 London Olympics, spoke to the AP on the same day as the IAAF issued a lengthy statement defending its procedures and calling the media allegations “sensationalist and confusing.”
The ARD and Sunday Times reports were based on analysis of the leaked test results by Australian anti-doping scientists Robin Parisotto and Michael Ashenden.
Coe questioned their credentials, saying, “These so-called experts — give me a break.”
The IAAF has a commission of three independent experts who have tested and checked thousands of blood samples, Coe said.
“I know who I would believe,” he said.
The IAAF said the database was used for building up a record of blood profiles to use for target testing. Most of the samples were taken before the introduction of the biological passport program and cannot be used as proof of doping.
“The use of this stuff, the sensationalizing, this is absolutely an attempt to destroy the reputation of the athletes and our sport,” Coe said. “Nobody is remotely suggesting that news organizations don’t have the right to question and challenge and kick the tires. But this selective use of this so-called information is just wrong.”
Coe said the IAAF has been at the forefront of blood screening and out-of-competition testing for years.
“We will not bend a knee to any other sport in the way we’ve led the way on this,” he said, noting that, since 2011, the IAAF has pursued 63 cases based on the biological passport program, with 39 athletes sanctioned so far.
Coe is competing against pole vault great Sergei Bubka to succeed Lamine Diack as IAAF president. The election will be held in Beijing on Aug. 19, ahead of the world championships from Aug. 22-30.