Athletics: Chance for Coe to rescue sport

IAAF president Sebastian Coe arriving at the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of MPs on blood doping in athletics. He has vowed to guide the body "back to trust" after a series of
IAAF president Sebastian Coe arriving at the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of MPs on blood doping in athletics. He has vowed to guide the body "back to trust" after a series of corruption and doping scandals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
IAAF president Sebastian Coe arriving at the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of MPs on blood doping in athletics. He has vowed to guide the body "back to trust" after a series of
Steve Cram PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Cram says doping won't be wiped out but stiff checks are effective

A day after world athletics chief Sebastian Coe was grilled by the British Parliament, English middle-distance legend Steve Cram has leapt to the defence of his former arch-nemesis.

In fact, he believes Coe's handling of the doping crisis that has embroiled track and field is "a huge opportunity for Seb to make a real impact in the sport, just as he did before as an athlete".

Last month, a report by the independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) detailed systematic, state-sponsored doping and related corruption in Russia.

Athletics' governing body International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) - which Coe has helmed since August - has since voted overwhelmingly to suspend Russia from the sport - potentially casting one of track and field's most successful nations out of next year's Rio Olympics.

Cram referred to Coe - who pipped him to the 1,500m gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics - as a "man of integrity, passion and vision who has real desire to tackle big issues".

The 55-year-old was not surprised by the doping revelations, encouraging more whistle-blowers to step forward to help Coe clean up the sport.

PULL OUT THE ROOTS

It's pointless to just ban the athletes, we need to catch the coaches and managers too to destroy the infrastructure behind the culture of cheating.

STEVE CRAM on the scourge of doping

He said: "The idea that Russia was cheating was no surprise - it's naive to think that systematic cheating has not been going on in sports for quite some time.

"The surprise was that somebody was brave enough to come out to talk about it.

"But it's pointless to just ban the athletes, we need to catch the coaches and managers too to destroy the infrastructure behind the culture of cheating."

Cram was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the inaugural Mass Participation Asia Conference at the Conrad Centennial hotel yesterday.

The Gateshead native is best-known for a prolific summer in 1985 when he set world records in the 1,500m, 2,000m and the mile during a 19-day period.

The two-time Commonwealth Games champion was also the first man to run 1,500m under 3min 30sec.

Today, he serves as a motivational speaker as well as an athletics commentator and coach.

It may seem grim but Cram insists doping in sport will never be eradicated.

Using the analogy of drivers slowing down when passing past speed cameras, only to speed up right after, he said athletes will continually find new drugs and methods to avoid getting caught.

To tackle the drug issue - which he claims is endemic not just in athletics but cycling and rugby as well - Cram said every country needs to have an independent drug-testing authority. He called on Wada to conduct regular checks on accredited drug laboratories.

"It all boils down to funding in the end - we are talking millions and millions of pounds on an annual basis to have an effective drug-testing programme," observed Cram.

The IAAF itself has been beset by corruption allegations regarding the taking of bribes to cover up doping. The retired Lamine Diack, whom Coe succeeded as president, was last month placed under formal investigation by the French authorities on suspicion of corruption and money laundering.

Coe was widely criticised for describing German broadcaster ARD and Britain's The Sunday Times allegations that the IAAF had ignored widespread blood-doping as a "declaration of war on our sport".

Even as strong words and accusations continue to be exchanged in the ongoing saga, Cram hopes brighter days are ahead.

He said: "If Wada and the major sporting federations work together to fight the scourge and push for drastic measures, there is hope.

"If there's anyone who can rescue athletics, it's Sebastian Coe."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'CHANCE FOR COE TO RESCUE SPORT'. Print Edition | Subscribe