IAAF faces flak on legal warning to journalist who exposed doping

Sebastian Coe (left), head of the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) as he arrives with Nick Davies, deputy general secretary of the IAAF, for a meeting in central London on Nov 9, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Sebastian Coe's International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) is set to come in for further criticism, after it emerged that it authorised a series of legal warnings to the journalist who exposed the Russian doping conspiracy in December 2014.

Since his documentary appeared on German television just over a year ago, Hajo Seppelt has received three letters from lawyers acting for the IAAF, advising him that it is monitoring his comments on matters relating to athletics and doping, and reserves the right to take legal action.

The letters came from the law firm Bird & Bird.

More surprising is the fact that Jonathan Taylor, co-head of the company's sports division, has been enlisted to work on the committee set up by the IAAF to determine whether Russia's suspension should be lifted in time for this year's Rio Olympics.

The first letter warned Seppelt about commenting on a leaked document which showed more than 150 blood values of athletes.

In the second, sent in March, it noted that he was due to speak at two forthcoming events, including the Tackling Doping in Sport summit, and that a Bird & Bird representative would attend both to ensure he said nothing which it deemed actionable.

The third was sent just before Christmas when a leaked e-mail, sent in 2013 by Nick Davies, deputy general secretary of the IAAF, appeared to show the federation trying to cover up the systemic nature of Russian cheating.

Again, Seppelt was warned of the consequences should he say anything inaccurate or defamatory.

Davies was last year appointed Coe's chief of staff but was forced to step down when the e-mail was published.

That the IAAF should be communicating in this manner with a journalist whom many believe has done athletics a service will be a further embarrassment for its president, Coe.

Vitaliy Stepanov and his wife Yuliya, the Russian whistle-blowers who gave the most damning testimony to Seppelt, turned to him when they failed to see any serious action from the authorities.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2016, with the headline IAAF faces flak on legal warning to journalist who exposed doping. Subscribe