New sponsor but Russia doping woes linger for re-elected Coe

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A giant air conditioning cools the Khalifa International Stadium prior the start of the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — With a lucrative sponsorship deal to open his second term, Sebastian Coe has one hope for the next four years leading track and field.

“Not to be dominated by Russia,” the IAAF president said after being re-elected unopposed on Wednesday. “It has been a tough four years. There is no point being naïve or coy about that.”

And the Russia doping issues are not going to be wiped from the slate soon.

The country’s ban from the IAAF for operating a systematic doping scheme was extended by the governing body’s congress just before all 203 delegates endorsed the 62-year-old Coe’s mandate for a second term.

When the world championships open in Doha on Friday, the only Russians competing will do so without their country’s flag or uniform in the Khalifa International Stadium. One current world champion, the high jumper Mariya Lasitskene, is among the 30 Russians.

There are 11 more Russian neutral athletes competing than at the 2017 world championships in London when Russia was first excluded as the IAAF set a rigorous benchmark for punishing doping that other sports have shied away from.

But convicting more cheats could be tougher after an IAAF taskforce earlier this week flagged up apparent tampering in data from Moscow’s anti-doping lab, with suspicious results apparently deleted or altered — even after Russia had already been punished for earlier cover-up attempts.

“We separated the clean athlete from the tainted system,” Coe said. “That again in large part has worked. But this has to be under review.”

The tough stance taken by Coe transformed perceptions of his willingness to confront Russia’s deception after the double Olympic 1,500-meter champion faced scrutiny over whether he knew earlier about the doping corruption than previously disclosed.

“The world divides into two groups,” Coe said in the Qatari capital. “Those prepared not to look the other way and tackle the problem even if there are short-term issues in doing so … and those who wait for sports like us to do what we need to do, and then follow.”

For Coe a clean athletics also needs to be a more popular one in the post-Usain Bolt era.

“I want the next four years to be the fun bit,” said Coe, who succeeded now-disgraced Lamine Diack as IAAF president in 2015 after leading the 2012 London Olympics. “We have to grow the sport. We know we have to reach beyond the beltway of athletics fans.”

A new commercial deal with the Wanda Group announced by Coe should help to achieve that mission, with the future of the Diamond League series safeguarded by the Chinese conglomerate gaining the title sponsorship from 2020.

The deal is worth more than $100 million over 10 years, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because financial details were not being disclosed.

Wanda, a global real estate and film production group, is expanding its sports backing into athletics having already signed up as a top-tier sponsor of FIFA’s World Cup through 2030.

The deal with the IAAF allows Wanda to organize a Diamond League meet in China, where there is currently a stop in Shanghai, and create a new event for the governing body in the country. That could be a street race event, the person with knowledge of the deal said.

Wanda has also gained the media rights for the Diamond League from 2025 through its Infront division which is led by Philippe Blatter, the nephew of disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

“It is the biggest single commercial partnership in the history of athletics,” Coe said.

IAAF election day started with the Athletics Integrity Unit suspending one of the vice presidential candidates — Ahmed Al Kamali of the United Arab Emirates — for potential violations of the code of conduct.

The IAAF elected its first female vice president, with the vote won by Ximena Restrepo, the sprinter who collected Colombia’s first Olympic medal in athletics at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

The other vice presidents are Sergei Bubka of Ukraine, Geoffrey Gardner of Norfolk Island and Prince Nawaf Bin Mohammed Al Saud of Saudi Arabia.

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Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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