Duncan Mackay

Sebastian Coe's decision to finally give up his ambassadorial position with sportswear company Nike should allow him to drown out what he described as the "noise" which had become "intolerable and a distraction" from concentrating on sorting out problems at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The BBC are trumpeting that the new President bowed to pressure they had created after revealing the contents of an email they claimed showed he had been lobbying on behalf of Nike to bring the 2021 IAAF World Championships to Eugene, home of the company's headquarters. The truth is that Coe had already decided several weeks ago he needed to sever his ties with the company but had decided that he wanted to inform the IAAF Council in person first.

There is little doubt he would have been better served announcing it as soon as he was elected to replace Lamine Diack at the IAAF Congress in Beijing in August as he had been warned by his PR company on several occasions during his campaign it was something that would potentially cause him problems. "I'm your cutman and you are leading with your face," one close adviser told him. 

The same obstinacy that served Coe so well during his outstanding career on the track, when he bounced back from his 800 metres defeat to Steve Ovett at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to win the 1500m having been written off and then retain the title four years later in Los Angeles after the British media had run a campaign for him not to be picked, has proved to be something of a character failure this time.

To suggest, though, that Coe did something underhand in ensuring Eugene was picked to host the 2021 World Championships is ridiculous. In retrospect, knowing that Gothenburg were planning to bid, it was imprudent to choose the American city without a proper bid process. But no-one at the time thought it was the wrong decision to award the IAAF's flagship event to a country which has provided many of the sport's biggest stars and sponsorship dollars, nor to the only city in the United States where it would be the biggest event in its history.

Even now, I don't know anyone who thinks it will harm the sport by taking its Championships to the biggest and most lucrative media market in the world.  This is not some obscure oil-rich city with no tradition in athletics using the event to build their brand - Eugene is not known as TrackTown USA for nothing. Even the Swedes privately admit going to Eugene is a wonderful opportunity, it is just they reached the decision in the wrong way. That, however, doesn't mean it was corrupt. 

Sebastian Coe defied the odds, retaining his Olympic 1500m title at Los Angeles 1984, after he refused to listen to the critics who wrote him off  ©Getty Imaes
Sebastian Coe defied the odds, retaining his Olympic 1500m title at Los Angeles 1984, after he refused to listen to the critics who wrote him off ©Getty Imaes

To avoid conflicts of interests like this one between Coe and Nike, the time has surely come for major governing bodies to pay salaries to their Presidents. If the sportsmen and women want to be represented to the highest standards then they must expect their leaders to be properly compensated and not rely on private incomes to support themselves and their families.

After all, in many cases they are acting as ex officio chief executives of companies with a turnover of millions of dollars organising major large-scale events all over the world. No-one would seriously expect the head of Apple to devote their lives to the company for no financial reward and nor should we ask people like Coe too either.

The last Briton to hold the position of IAAF President was Lord Burghley, the 6th Marquess of Exeter, a figure immortalised in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire by having his butler place a glass of champagne on each hurdle when he trained and trying to jump over them without spilling a drop. The scene was probably fictionalised. But Burghley, the Olympic 400m hurdles gold medallist, came from a family who at the time owned one of the biggest country estates in England, so it is probably fair to assume money was not an issue.

When Burghley was President between 1946 and 1976 the most important letter in the IAAF was "amateur" (the organisation changed its name in 2001) and its business was conducted out of a small two-room office on the outskirts of London. Burghley probably popped in a couple of times a month on his way to this gentleman's club. It would not have required much more attention because at that time the governing body organised no events, had no sponsors and the anti-doping programme was only carried out on a few athletes during the Olympics.

Times have changed. The IAAF now organises a year-round worldwide competition programme, earns millions in sponsorship and has an anti-doping programme that tests hundreds of athletes every month, both in and out-of-competition. 

There is nothing wrong with a Federation paying its President a salary as long as it is done in a transparent manner, as it is at the International Cycling Union where Coe's fellow Briton, Brian Cookson, announced shortly after he was elected in 2013 that he is going to receive CHF340,000 (£235,000/$378,000/€275,000) per year for his role. 

Lord Burghley, the last Briton to hold the position of IAAF President before Sebastian Coe, was in charge of a much smaller organisation that required little management ©Burghley Collection
Lord Burghley, the last Briton to hold the position of IAAF President before Sebastian Coe, was in charge of a much smaller organisation that required little management ©Burghley Collection

There remains no doubt in my mind that Coe is the right man to sort out the mess athletics finds itself in. He retains almost total support within the sport, despite the turbulent period it has endured. Even for athletics, a sport used in the last 30 years to lurching from crisis to crisis, these are unprecedented times. As someone who has known Coe for more than 25 years, I remain convinced he is committed as ever to restoring the public's faith in athletics. 

Besides being pilloried for his links with Nike, Coe has also been criticised for not being aware of allegations that Diack was involved in a scheme to cover-up positive drugs tests involving Russian athletes and then blackmail them to keep it private. Coe was the vice-president of the IAAF for much of this time.

It is just a hunch, but I am guessing Diack was not putting "corruption and blackmail" on the agenda of the IAAF Council so it was open for discussion. Coe was also one of three vice-presidents - and never the senior one - during this period and for much of that time he was in charge of London 2012 so, understandably, the IAAF was not top of his list.

Coe has inherited an organisation where corruption and excess is endemic, which for 18 years before Diack took over was run by Primo Nebiolo, an Italian who once compared himself to Hitler and Mussolini and was involved in doping cover-ups and result fixing. Even Coe admitted yesterday it would probably take longer than the period he can serve as IAAF President - the maximum term, following a rule-change at the Congress in Beijing, is 12 years - to fully restore the public's trust. It is going to be a long road back to redemption with no guarantee it will reach the end. 

Coe has already started to address some of the extravagance that marked the reigns of Nebiolo and Diack. He is currently in negotiations to arrange for a villa that was the centre of Diack's empire to be returned to the Principality of Monaco, who had rented it to the IAAF on a peppercorn rent. From now, everyone at the IAAF will work in the same offices.

Coe has also cancelled the luxury suite at the Farimont Hotel that the IAAF used to pay €15,000 (£10,000/$16,000) per month so that Diack could stay in Monte Carlo. Coe is instead looking for a modest one-bedroom flat within walking distance of the IAAF's headquarters. 

Sebastian Coe has given up the €15,000 per month suite at the Fairmont Hotel that Lamine Diack used to stay at when he was in Monte Carlo ©Fairmont Hotel
Sebastian Coe has given up the €15,000 per month suite at the Fairmont Hotel that Lamine Diack used to stay at when he was in Monte Carlo ©Fairmont Hotel

The sport is suffering death by a thousand cuts and there is no sign of it ending anytime soon. Coe is next Wednesday (December 2) due to appear before a Culture, Media and Sport Committee at the British Parliament, who have launched an inquiry into blood doping following the revelations broadcast by German television channel ARD and The Sunday Times last year. The meeting is certain to lead to another series of negative headlines and Coe can once again expect to be quizzed by publicity hungry politicians on his links with Nike.

Then, even more damning, will be the publication of the second half of the report from the World Anti-Doping Agency Independent Commission, which already exposed the level of doping within athletics in Russia. Richard Pound, the Commission's chairman, has revealed there will be a "wow factor" when the next part about the depth of corruption within the IAAF is released. “People will say: ‘How on earth could this happen?’" Pound told one British newspaper. "It’s a complete betrayal of what the people in charge of the sport should be doing.”

I know Coe will be just as hurt by the allegations as any other athletics fan. It is easy to forget that for every corrupt official within a governing body there are usually at least another 20 who remain honest, totally committed to what they are doing in an honest, fair and transparent manner. "Like so many here in Monaco I have given my life to this sport and I am f...king pissed off," wrote one long-standing IAAF employee to me earlier this week.

Even after the second part of Pound's report is published, the IAAF will still not be able to think about looking too far forward because at its next Council meeting in Cardiff on March 27 it will have to consider what to do about Russia when its studies the findings of its independent task force led by Norwegian anti-doping expert Rune Andersen. With everyone in Russia from Vladimir Putin downwards claiming they are committed to resolving the situation which led to the country's unprecedented suspension,

it is hard to believe the IAAF will not restore their membership in time so they can compete at Rio 2016. Coe knows that will lead to more claims of deals having been cut and that the original ban was just cosmetic.

Sebastian Coe still faces a tough period at the IAAF but everyone in athletics still supports him ©Getty Images
Sebastian Coe still faces a tough period at the IAAF but everyone in athletics still supports him ©Getty Images

Perhaps only after that can Coe begin thinking about the track and field at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where he will be desperately hoping Usain Bolt can once again do his bit to try to rescue the sport. Whatever the Jamaican achieves, though, the athletics at Rio 2016 will not match what London 2012 served up, arguably the finest moment in the sport's long history. Capacity crowds for every session, outstanding performances and breathtaking moments of drama. Coe, remember, deserves a great deal of credit for that success, something which appears to have been too quickly forgotten by too many people. 

Perhaps by the time the 2017 IAAF World Championships take place in that same Olympic Stadium on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park we will be starting to see the effects of Coe's reforms, which will be appropriate. It is going to be a difficult couple of years but if anyone can turn the sport around then it is Sebastian Coe.