'Noises' blamed as Coe severs links to Nike

Sebastian Coe says the debate over his ambassadorial role for Nike was distracting him from efforts to save athletics from the current drug and corruption scandals.
Sebastian Coe says the debate over his ambassadorial role for Nike was distracting him from efforts to save athletics from the current drug and corruption scandals.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

IAAF chief says decision not linked to e-mail uncovered by BBC on bidding for 2021 c'ships

LONDON • Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), has reluctantly ditched his controversial £100,000 (S$212,000) a year role as a Nike ambassador.

But he still maintains that it was not a conflict of interest.

The double Olympic gold medallist, under growing pressure to cut his long-standing ties with the American sportswear company, said he had made the decision because "the current noise level" was becoming a distraction from his mission to save his crisis-hit sport.

"It is clear that perception and reality have become horribly mangled. I have stepped down from the Nike position I have held for 38 years," Coe, 59, said, following a day of talks with his fellow IAAF council members on Thursday.

Besieged by allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia and corruption claims levelled at his predecessor, Lamine Diack, Coe said the Nike issue was interfering with his attempts to lead athletics out of its current malaise.

HAZY SITUATION

It is clear that perception and reality have become horribly mangled.

SEBASTIAN COE, on his role as Nike ambassador

"The decision I chose to take in the last few weeks... reflected my absolute intention to focus as long and as hard as I can on steadying the ship that has been rocking rather badly recently," said Coe.

Yet, he insisted the decision had not come as a result of growing pressure arising from an e-mail uncovered by the BBC this week.

It showed he had discussed a successful bid to host the 2021 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, the birthplace of Nike, with a senior executive from the sportswear company.

That information had then been passed back to the leader of the bid.

Coe also said the IAAF ethics committee had reassured him that he could have retained the Nike role and his position as chairman of sports-marketing company CSM - as long as he was not involved in decisions relating to the sport's world governing body.

He insisted he had not been bounced into standing down yet argued that it was the "noises" around the issue, rather than the substance of it, that had caused him to relinquish the contract.

"The current noise level around this ambassadorial role is not good for the IAAF and it is not good for Nike," he said. "And, frankly, it is a distraction to the 18-hour days that I and our teams are working to steady the ship."

Coe added he would be stepping down as the British Olympic Association chairman after next year's Rio Olympics and that CSM would not tender for any IAAF work.

British Conservative MP Damian Collins, who sits on the culture, media and sport select committee that will question Coe next week, welcomed the latter's decision.

But Collins said there were still questions Coe had to answer over the Eugene bid.

Meanwhile, following a damning report by former World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound that revealed state-sponsored doping in Russia on an industrial scale, the IAAF confirmed that the country has been suspended from the sport indefinitely.

Russia has also formally accepted the sanction.

Coe insisted that there was no time frame on Russia's return to the sport, despite a widespread belief in the country that officials would be able to put the necessary measures in place to return in time for the Rio Olympics.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline ''NOISES 'BLAMED AS COE SEVERS LINKS TO NIKE'. Print Edition | Subscribe