Sport

Westminster recalls Sebastian Coe after doubt is cast on his earlier evidence

Sebastian Coe originally gave evidence to the British government select committee in December 2015  
Matt Slater

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SEBASTIAN COE has been recalled to the British government's culture, media and sport select committee by the end of January after "some doubt" was cast on evidence he gave to MPs in December 2015 about corruption within athletics' world governing body.

The decision to ask the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president to return to parliament followed Tuesday's testimony from Dave Bedford that, in the words of one MP, "undermined" Coe's answers to the CMS panel.

Bedford, a former London Marathon director and chairman of the IAAF's road-racing commission, spent 90 minutes answering questions on warnings he gave Coe in 2014 about senior officials at the IAAF allegedly blackmailing Russian marathon runner Liliya Shobukhova to cover up positive drugs tests.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, CMS committee chairman Damian Collins said: "From what David Bedford said to us today, it would seem that he spoke to Lord Coe on two occasions about the case he had submitted to the IAAF ethics commission, as well as sending him emails and text messages.

"As we conclude our inquiry on doping in sport, there are understandably questions that arise for us about this and, in particular, the level of knowledge that Lord Coe had about the serious allegations that had been made.

"We know that Lord Coe forwarded David Bedford's email to [IAAF ethics board chairman] Michael Beloff and it would also appear there was some communication between them before he did so.

"David Bedford's purpose in getting in touch with Lord Coe was not to ask him to do that, as the evidence had already been submitted. He clearly felt that Lord Coe needed to know about the allegations that had been made.

"We are interested to know what Lord Coe knew and when. He said that he was unaware of the specific allegations until they were broadcast in the ARD documentary [in December 2014], but David Bedford's evidence casts some doubt on this."

Collins added the committee would like to see the full email exchange between Coe, a former Conservative MP, and Beloff and not just the screengrab the IAAF has released of Coe forwarding Bedford's email about the Shobukhova scandal to the ethics board boss.

The IAAF, however, has issued a strong rejection of the idea Bedford's testimony contradicted Coe: "Today's evidence has offered nothing new to the committee's inquiry into 'Combatting Doping in Sport'," it said.

"All information including the emails central to their questioning [on Tuesday] were sent to the committee chair in June 2016 and acknowledged. Based upon this, Coe has no further information he can provide to the inquiry.

"As we have previously confirmed, Coe's number one priority was to ensure that the right people in the right place were aware of any allegations and were investigating them. This was confirmed when his office forwarded the emails to the man Coe trusted the most, Michael Beloff QC, the chair of the then recently-established IAAF ethics commission, receipt of which Beloff acknowledged."

This would appear to suggest the double Olympic 1,500 metres champion does not intend to comply with the committee's request and, as a member of the House of Lords, he cannot be compelled to do so.

How that would play to the public gallery is unclear, but the CMS committee would be deeply unhappy that a fellow parliamentarian would not want to clarify his position, particularly as public money was invested in his campaign to replace Lamine Diack at the IAAF.

The source of this unhappiness is Coe's response to efforts made by Bedford to warn him about the Shobukhova affair and make sure the IAAF did not "cover up" the scandal. Coe told MPs in 2015 he simply forwarded Bedford's emails to Beloff without reading them or opening the attached documents. Bedford said he was "very surprised and quite disappointed" when he heard Coe say that.

In summing up his evidence, Conservative MP Nigel Huddleston said it was clear Bedford's answers had "undermined" Coe's version of events. The fact Bedford had contacted Coe was first reported by the BBC's Panorama and the Daily Mail last June, but more details emerged on Tuesday about a conversation the pair had at an athletics writers' lunch on November 21, two weeks before the ARD broadcast.

Bedford told MPs he was trying to broker a meeting between Coe and Shobukhova's lawyer Mike Morgan - a meeting that never happened due to legal advice Coe was given. But on four different occasions in Bedford's testimony, the former world 10,000m record-holder said there was no doubt in his mind Coe was aware of Shobukhova's allegations by this point.

The upshot of this - as Huddleston, Labour MP Ian Lucas and Scottish National Party MP John Nicolson pointed out - is that it does not tally with Coe's December 2015 claims that he did not know about the Shobukhova affair and allegations surrounding Diack until the ARD broadcast.

When asked if he believed Coe's claim that he did not read the email, Bedford said: "I don't think it matters if I believe him or not. I was surprised that he said that and that goes some way to answering the question."

When asked for a personal view on why Coe may have chosen to remain, in Nicolson's words, "wilfully ignorant" of what was happening at the IAAF, Bedford said he thought his compatriot had decided the best way he could help save athletics was to get elected, which meant staying on the right side of Diack.

Bedford added he still believed Coe was the only man capable of saving the sport and should be measured on what he has done to reform the IAAF since taking over in August 2015.

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