What a difference a few years can make to a person’s reputation.
British Olympic hero, ex chairman of the FIFA ethics committee (he did a great job there), deliverer of the best Olympic games in history and a Lord, Sebastian Coe’s status was, until recently, nothing short of phenomenal.
When elected president of the IAAF in 2015, Lord Coe was heralded as the man to clean up athletics and restore the sport’s credibility in the wake of the Russian doping scandal and the arrest of outgoing president Lamine Diack on corruption charges. Just months after winning the election it was revealed that Lord Coe had awarded the 2021 World Athletics Championships to Nike’s hometown of Eugene without a formal bidding process. Coe was forced into resigning his role as an ambassador for the global sportswear company to avoid questions over a potential conflict of interest. Lord Coe’s reputation was damaged further by this week’s BBC Panorama investigation into his relationship with shamed IAAF adviser Papa Massata Diack, who is wanted by Interpol on charges of corruption and blackmail. It is alleged that Diack Jr secured African delegate votes for Lord Coe’s IAAF election victory. Unfortunately for Lord Coe, a trail of text messages between him, Diack and the IAAF’s head of communications Nick Davies has been uncovered, showing clear collaboration between the parties throughout the campaign.
In today’s world of transparency, I’m surprised that Nick Davies advised Lord Coe to get involved with the man at the centre of this scandal. It shows a huge amount of naivety on his part thinking the messages would remain private. Regardless, you’d hope the head of communications of the IAAF, not to mention Lord Coe himself, would put the importance of ethical practice above the desire to win. While there’s no evidence of bribery (yet), Mr Coe’s willingness to take advice from the disgraced Papa Massata Diack raises serious questions about his credibility as president of the IAAF. Needless to say, Lord Coe’s team have issued a strong rebuttal statement denying any wrongdoing. They will hope that what they say over the coming weeks and months will restore Lord Coe’s dwindling reputation. However, like so many other fallen stars before him, it’s usually what you do and not what you say that determines how you are perceived.