Should Coe Go?

Review of the week: 13 – 17 January 2016

2014 IAAF Council Meeting - Sebastian Coe

There were ominous signs, even before Thursday’s press conference. Dick Pound had warned, days before, that his conclusions would be “nuanced”. Twitter held its breath.

And nuanced they were, with Pound condemning the IAAF on governance, but praising its use of the biological passport; saying that Coe must have known that rules were not being followed, but backing him to remain in post. Coe had not been corrupt but he had not been alert to the corruption of his colleagues. Some found the report contradictory.

In fact, it made perfect sense. Experts, like economist and jurist Susan Rose-Ackerman, have spent many years studying corruption, and have concluded that a quick-fire firing does not always lead to a quick fix. It is better to remove the incentives for corruption.


The IAAF could learn a lot from Rose-Ackerman’s ideas. She advocates protecting and rewarding whistleblowers, and preventing conflicts of interest. But she also cautions against punishing everybody equally, regardless of the gravity of the offence – this can benefit the most corrupt. If, having stepped foolishly onto a slippery slope, the door to redemption slams behind, some will find an excuse to slither all the way to the bottom.

In a celebrated clean-up of the Hong Kong police, the most heinous offenders were all treated severely, but many of those guilty of lesser infractions were given an amnesty.

Paradoxically, the more widespread the problems, the less sense it makes for Coe to go. If there are only a few bad apples, it really is as simple as turning them into crumble and leaving the rest of the barrel to remain pristine and ripe for evermore. But if corruption is systemic, expelling a few individuals without proper structural reform is like changing the water in a cesspool. It will not be too long before it is just as murky as it was before.

No Muzzle Required

Should the media stop behaving like a “pack of dogs”, as Paula Radcliffe has complained? No – the incentives for corruption are reduced if there is a chance of it becoming public knowledge – there is less corruption in countries with a free press. Release the hounds!

Coe and the media could be the best of frenemies. He can balance the perceived lack of toughness of his simpering good cop, if he allows the press to play the unstable bad cop. Pointing to the risk of embarrassment and disgrace will make easier to say no to Russia.

2010 Winter Olympics Aksel Lund Svindal in downhill

Skiing World Cup

Aksel Lund Svindel (above) remedied a significant career omission, when he claimed his first win in the historic downhill race in Wengen. His compatriots Henrik Kristoffersen and Kjetil Jansrud won the other two World Cup events, to continue a season in which Norwegians dominate the overall standings. Austria will have the chance to strike back during the next two weeks, with its famous home races in Kitzbuehel and Schladming.

Track Cycling World Cup

Despite its Olympic successes, the British track cycling team has a patchy record in the gaps between Games. This weekend’s overall World Cup title was only its second ever.

As Rio approaches, the sleeping giant showed signs of awaking again from its three year slumber. The Olympic sprint champion, Jason Kenny, had a long overdue return to form to win a bronze medal. Laura Trott won omnium gold but she seems never to sleep at all.

Next week: More Alpine skiing from Kitzbuehel and Cortina, and European water polo


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