LONDON • British track great Sebastian Coe said he is prepared to present Justin Gatlin with a gold medal if the controversial American sprinter wins the 100m final at the World Championships in Beijing later this month.
Last week Coe, a candidate for the presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) hit out at fresh allegations that officials had not done enough in the fight against doping, saying they were a "declaration of war" on the sport.
While he is personally in favour of life bans for dope cheats, Coe said he and his fellow officials would have little choice but to present Gatlin, twice found guilty of taking banned substances, with gold if he wins the blue riband event on Aug 23.
It is a prospect that has created a sense of dread among many athletics insiders, particularly if Gatlin beats sprint star Usain Bolt - who has a clean record - in the process.
Speaking via a telephone conference call in London, Coe said: "I was always in favour of a life ban. I realise that train has left the station, for all sorts of legal reasons.
"Justin Gatlin is eligible to compete. If you are saying to me, would I rather not have athletes that have served bans competing in major championships, the answer is probably yes.
"But, if he is eligible to compete, he has to be presented with a gold medal if he wins."
Coe, the Olympic 1,500m champion at the 1980 and 1984 Games, is standing against Ukrainian pole-vault great Sergey Bubka in the race to succeed Lamine Diack as IAAF president. The election is scheduled for Aug 19.
The Briton was cautious when asked if athletes should follow the example of Britain's European 10,000m champion Jo Pavey, who said she would publish her own blood test data.
Coe said that he does not want athletes to be "bullied" into making public medical information that could be "misinterpreted" as one-off readings.
Instead, he suggested creating an independent anti-doping agency in athletics that can help the sport in its battle against drug cheats, as it would ease the workload of both the World Anti-Doping Agency and national athletics associations.
"It is really important we close down at every opportunity the perception that, in some way, what we are doing is mired in conflict," he said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE