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Another sporting scandal rumbles on

Yesterday part 2 of the World Doping Agency report into the IAAF’s connection with the long-term performance-enhancing drugs scandal in the sport of track and field was made public. As it happens, I was having my post-prandial nap at the time the press conference began being transmitted ‘live’ on Radio Five Live and – for good or ill – then immediately dozed off. I only then ‘came to’ as the Five Live studio presenter was discussing the headline points with his sports correspondent and thus missed hearing for myself what those were.

Having speed-read the broadsheet newspaper reports and analysis overnight, I am still not sure that I yet know full chapter and verse. In case my Rust readers might benefit from them I nevertheless include here links to three articles which seem to provide decent summaries of the report and its implications, plus some reasonable comments/analysis:

Ben Rumsby, Daily Telegraph Sports News correspondent, in the – DAILY TELEGRAPH

Owen Gibson in THE GUARDIAN

Martin Samuel in the – DAILY MAIL

Today my intention is not to lambast the IAAF, Lord Coe or indeed the sport of track and field – tempting though it is to shoot fish in a barrel – but to make a point or two about the administrators of the great sports of the world generally, not least the Olympics, FIFA and the IAAF.

Some pundit, journo or expert commentated on the radio at some stage yesterday that, frankly, indignant though the British – and perhaps some investigative factions within the world’s media – might be about the corruption and general lack of either integrity or morality apparently endemic within the IAAF, it was worth point out that the bulk of the rest of the world was far less exercised about the problem, if indeed problem it was perceived to be.

I was most intrigued by this statement. Irrespective of these days of post-modern British politics – whether that be at Nigel Farage or Jeremy Corbyn end of the spectrum – it has always been easy from my personal ivory tower to be pretty black and white in my attitudes and perceptions when it comes to sport, if nothing else. I didn’t catch the speaker’s name and I don’t know his standpoint but, it seemed to me, he could just as easily be coming from a racist position as an ultra-pragmatic one.

What I mean by this is that it seems quite possible that he was effectively saying that global sports administration – of necessity – involves countries around the world whose cultures and attitudes to integrity and morality are very different to ours and the basic problem is that in the modern world every country gets the same single vote.

In other words, even if (for example) in the worlds of soccer, athletics and the Olympics, the Europeans like to think they stand for the sword of justice and unimpeachable principles, the fact is that the rest of the world, whether individual countries are run by unabashed dictators or pretend-democrats (and in which fraud, corruption, backhanders, extortion, turning a blind eye, feathering one’s own nest and self-interest are woven into the fabric of everyday life), rarely gives more than a fig for such things.

All that seemingly matters to them is that, once every four years or so – or indeed from year to year – great sporting events get staged and then televised around the world. Whether these are organised and run by corrupt officials – and/or indeed the sporting participants in them are doped up to the eyeballs and/or (if that is your view) ‘cheating’ in one form or another – is actually of far less, if not minimal, concern.

CoeTo some degree I do feel a little sympathy for Lord Coe over the current crisis in the IAAF. He’s a human being, he wants to achieve things and, in his own way, make the world a better place.

That said, simply from what I’ve seen of him in the media over the past forty years as a great athlete, then as a Tory grandee, as the man who brought the 2012 Olympics to Britain and now as the head of the IAAF – for all his smoothness as an operator – personally I have never warmed to him.

Regarding the IAAF and the fall-out from the track and field performance-enhancing drugs issue, he’s made a bit of a prat of himself.

Last summer, when the scandal first broke, he came out swinging – deriding and sneering at ‘this attack on our sport’ rather than actually taking time to read and then appreciate the full implications of the story. Currently, faced with the incontrovertible evidence of endemic corruption within the IAAF itself (to which he belonged) his line that he was ‘aware of the problem, but never its full or detailed extent’ ranks right up there with Bill Clinton’s confession that, when a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, he did smoke marijuana ‘but never inhaled’.

The truth of the matter is that Lord Coe was an ‘insider’. He was a senior executive within the IAAF and my hunch is that he was fully aware of what was going on within it, but because of his ambition to succeed Lamine Diak as head of the IAAF he was either up to his neck in (and/or had to ignore) all the dirty antics, corruption and fraud in order to play the necessary internal politics and win the prize.

It was just the same with last time’s failed UK bid to win the right to stage a soccer World Cup from FIFA. The FA was all too keenly aware of the state of FIFA from Sepp Blatter downwards but equally it knew, if it wished to have any chance of bringing the World Cup back to Britain, that it was going to have to turn a total blind eye to it, grit its teeth and accordingly play the ‘bidding’ game by the (corrupt and dirty) rules by which FIFA was unofficially running it.

That was the FA’s dilemma. Did it walk away from the prospect of ever bringing the soccer World Cup – and all the attendant prestige and economic benefits – back to these shores … or did it get its hands dirty in an attempt to do so?

It opted to get its hands dirty.

I don’t blame the FA for that. Arguably, in this world you can only ever conduct yourselves by the rules that apply – or that you understand apply – at the time. Ideally, of course, everything would be principled and run with integrity. But it isn’t and it’s inevitable that, because life is short, it’s so much easier to forget about right and wrong (or fail to stick to a black and white view of how things should work) and simply take a pragmatic view.

Principles or pragmatism? That’s our eternal dilemma. Who’d choose to be a human being …?


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About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts