Melton Times Sports Editor’s blog – Seb Coe should hit back at the cheats not the accusers

New IAAF president Sebastian Coe EMN-150820-111621002
New IAAF president Sebastian Coe EMN-150820-111621002
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Covering the rise of up-and-coming sportsmen and women is a rewarding part of the job, yet it can throw up a few sobering reality checks where generation gaps are concerned.

As a 41-year-old (there, I’ve said it), Sebastian Coe will always be a great champion rather than a statesman.

A hero in a red and blue hooped white singlet, sitting atop British middle distance running’s golden generation, rather than a suit and a stuffed shirt.

But clearly not to all. Interviewing a talented young runner about a big race, she described how she had left her dash for glory late, charging from the back.

‘Just like Seb Coe used to’, I offered helpfully. There was an embarrassed silence as it gradually dawned on me how old I sounded. At least in comparison to my interviewee.

I‘m sure they were aware Coe had been a runner of great note, but to today’s youthful generation he is chiefly the man who brought the Olympics to London. And to others, worse still, an MP.

Now Lord Coe has a new cloak and hat to don as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

During his heyday, Coe was always portrayed by the press as the well-mannered young chap next door, poles apart from his fierce rival Steve Ovett, the streetfighter.

But Coe was nothing of the sort; he was as tough as teak. And he will need all of his track toughness as he wades into a challenge much greater than winning Olympic gold.

He takes charge of athletic’s world governing body with track and field once more parked at a precarious crossroads it would much rather have detoured.

The initial signs weren’t overly encouraging.

As Coe grandstanded for the presidency, he railed against the allegations rather than the cheats.

He blustered that the press and TV media who had raised the spectre of widespread doping and suspect blood samples of ‘declaring war’ on his sport.

That sentiment and the rallying call to fight back saddened me greatly.

It removed a layer of veneer from my childhood reverence of a great sporting icon. And worse, it implied that energy would be poured into proving the accusers wrong rather than smoking out the guilty.

None of us likes bad news, but don’t shoot the messenger, Seb.

It all sounded eerily reminiscent of the efforts to discredit the few journalists who dared to investigate Lance Armstrong.

There will be two schools of thought as to why the German broadcaster ARD/WDR and our own Sunday Times broke the story.

The establishment side will say they are searching for scandal and a scoop, while the journalists will say they were trying to help protect clean athletes and the sport by rooting out the rotten eggs.

By holding the IAAF to account they are simply doing their job.

The truth, as in most things in life, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

But what is 100 per cent clear is turning the issue into a legal slanging match will hurt both sides and help no-one.

While the governing body weren’t overly pleased to be scrutinised, I’m positive the thousands of clean, honest athletes were glad the issue had been raised.

It’s true there are salacious sections of our industry who are interested in only muck-raking and not solutions.

But there are many good journalists who are driven by passion for their subject.

Our culture as a whole seems set against those uncovering uncomfortable truths and questioning authority. It’s a trend made worse by the decline of the written press.

As more and more journalists’ jobs are cut, the fewer the resources to hold public bodies and politicians to account, a vital component in our democracy which is alarmingly underestimated.

If Lord Coe and the warring journos can work together on this, perhaps the next generation of athletes will be saved the suspicion and uncertainties which have dogged the sport for decades.

I suspect that’s a naive and forlorn hope.

But if Coe can pull this one off, he will be a hero to span all generations.