LONDON (AFP) - British track great Sebastian Coe has said he will be prepared to present Justin Gatlin with a gold medal if the controversial American wins the 100 metres final at this month's World Championships in Beijing.
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.
But although personally in favour of life bans for dope cheats, Coe, currently an IAAF vice-president, 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 August 23.
It is a prospect that has created a sense of dread among many athletics insiders, particularly if Gatlin beats sprint great Usain Bolt in the process.
The Jamaican, who has a clean doping record, is arguably the greatest athlete of his era and certainly the one with the biggest worldwide fan base.
Since winning the 100m and 200m finals in world record time at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, only a false start in the 100m at the 2011 World Championships in Dagu has prevented Bolt from a clean sweep of sprint titles at four major global meetings.
Coe, the Olympic 1500m champion at both the 1980 and 1984 Games is standing against Ukrainian former pole-vault star Sergey Bubka in the race to succeed Lamine Diack as IAAF president, with an election scheduled for August 19.
Speaking to reporters via a telephone conference call in London on Wednesday, 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 eligible to compete, he has to be presented with a gold medal (if he wins)."
Meanwhile Coe 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, saying he didn't want them to be "bullied" into making public information that could be "misinterpreted" as one-off readings.
"I would hate them to feel they are under pressure to do this because if they don't there is somehow an assumption they are guilty".
Meanwhile Coe said Tuesday's announcement by the IAAF that it had provisionally suspended 28 athletes for suspected doping offences at the 2005 and 2007 world championships in Helsinki and Osaka, was proof of the governing body's desire to root out cheats.
"That shows we were right to hold samples in 2005 in the belief that more sophisticated (anti-doping) techniques would emerge," he said.