SEBASTIAN Coe faces fresh questions about what he knew of corruption within athletics before his election as president of the sport’s governing body the IAAF after MPs heard evidence that “undermined” his claims of ignorance.
Coe told the Culture, Media and Sport select committee in December 2015 that he was unaware of any specific allegations about the extent of Russian doping or that senior IAAF officials were extorting money from Russian athletes to bury positive drug tests until German broadcaster ARD broke the story on December 3, 2014.
But Dave Bedford told the same committee that he had called and emailed Coe to warn him about the scandal in August 2014 and had then spoken to him about a related matter on November 21, two weeks before the ARD broadcast.
Loading article content
Coe told MPs he simply forwarded Bedford’s emails to the IAAF’s new ethics board without reading them properly or opening the attached documents.
Bedford, the former London Marathon race director and chairman of the IAAF’s road racing commission, said he was “very surprised and quite disappointed” when he heard Coe say that. In summing up his evidence to the committee, Conservative MP Nigel Huddleston said it was clear that Bedford’s answers had “undermined” Coe’s version of events.
Within minutes of the session finishing, committee chairman Damian Collins confirmed that he would be asking Coe to return to parliament to clarify his 2015 answers by the end of this month.
Bedford’s testimony lasted 90 minutes and he spent the first half an hour explaining the background to how he was first alerted to the scale of Russia’s cheating and the corrupt behaviour of IAAF president Lamine Diack’s inner circle of advisors.
The 67-year-old Englishman, a former world 10,000 metres record-holder, said he was first warned about Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova in late 2011 but the details of the scandal did not start to emerge until early 2014.
That was when Shobukhova’s agent Andrey Baranov told IAAF official Sean Wallace-Jones, a friend of Bedford’s, that his runner had sent large sums of money to the IAAF, via the Russian athletics federation, to halt anti-doping proceedings against her.
Bedford then facilitated an official complaint from Baranov, counter-signed by Wallace-Jones, to Michael Beloff, the chairman of the IAAF’s ethics board, in April 2014 and put Baranov in contact with leading sports lawyer Mike Morgan. But having heard nothing back from Beloff, Bedford told the MPs that he started to worry about a cover-up and thought he should warn Coe, who he knew to be considering a run at the IAAF presidency in 2015, about what was happening and who he could trust.
He then explained, as the BBC’s Panorama and Daily Mail first revealed last June, that he called Coe in August to tell him he would be sending him some emails, with attached documents.
Bedford then emailed Coe, with Shobukhova’s name in the header, and texted him a week later to ask if he had got them. He received no reply. He followed up with another text in September and again received no reply.
In November, Bedford met Morgan who told him that he did not know who to trust at the IAAF any more and Bedford tried to set up an informal meeting with Coe.
Bedford, who described his relationship with Coe as “friendly but we’re not friends”, told MPs that he met the double Olympic champion at an athletics writers’ lunch on November 21 and they discussed the proposed meeting with Morgan.
Crucially, Bedford told MPs that while he had not been told by Coe if he or had not read his emails, he was certain that Coe was aware of what they were about.