Mixed, Befuddled & Confused

The administration of sport is an endless mystery. Make no mistake there are good administrators. Beth Meade from Gisborne was first class. There are few better than Jeannie and Geoff Sibun from Counties Manukau. Arch Jelley was President of Athletics New Zealand. You won’t find a more knowledgeable and honest administrator than him. The list is a long one, made up of fine men and women who have the best interests of sport and the individuals who play it, at heart.

I was hopeful that the election of Seb Coe, or as I once heard Arch Jelley call him, “Young Sebastian”, to the position of President of the IAAF would usher in a new day. Here was guy who knew sport. Yes, he was always a little stand-offish, a bit superior, but his athletic resume was flawless. It is hard to beat four Olympic medals, two of them Gold and eleven world records. He may not have been a comfortable member of the track and field circuit but he sure knew how to run.

But as an administrator his record is not so stellar. My guess is we should have paid less attention to his speed at running twice or four times around a 400 meter track. Perhaps we should have given more weight to his Conservative Party and East India private gentlemen’s club membership. Swanning around with the reactionary inhabitants of London’s St. James Square is certainly in tune with his decision making in athletics.

Take, for example, Caster Semenya, the South African 800 meter champion. She was unquestionably born with physical advantages. So was Coe. So was John Walker. So was Danyon Loader. So was Peter Snell. So was every Olympic medallist. But, like Coe, although Caster Semenya was born lucky she has had to work hard to develop her luck. Not even her natural advantages allow her to sit in McDonalds every afternoon and win an Olympic Gold Medal. After all she is not that much better than the women she competes against.

For example her personal best is a second slower than the world 800m record and a huge ten seconds slower than the women’s world record over 1500m. If Semenya is cheating she’s not doing a very good job of it.

She has won the 800 meter Olympic title twice; in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016. However in London she was only 0.3 of a second ahead of Poistogova from Russia in second and 0.36 ahead of Jelimo from Kenya in third.  In Rio Semenya was slightly more dominant. She won in 1:55.28. Niyonsaba from Burundi was 1.21 behind in second and Wambui from Kenya was third 1.61 behind in third. But before anyone jumps all over Semenya for winning by a second we need to remember that Coe, at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, also won his gold medal by about a second. Peter Snell was 1.5 seconds ahead of second in the Tokyo Olympic Games. I wonder what “Young Sebastian” has to say about that.

Coe’s crusade to crucify Semenya is wrong and, more than a little bit creepy. But what I really do not understand, what is an unbelievable double standard, is the paradox between the obsession Coe has with Semenya and his lassez-faire attention to the Russian state-sponsored drug program. Those guys cheat big time. Russia makes Lance Armstrong and Ben Johnson look like health food devotees. Russian cheating is systemic, organised and as integral to the state as manipulating American elections. Putin is on a huge power trip and winning international sports events does his ego and, he believes, his country no harm at all.

Oh sure, there has been lip service to those naughty Russians. The IOC took steps to restrict Russian entries into the Rio Olympic Games. But really the reaction of Coe, the IAAF and WADA to a Russian nation of cheats has been a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket. It is classic really. Coe picks on a South African woman who is black, four centimetres taller than Coe and 16 kilograms heavier than him. Coe is not one to take being beaten up by a black woman lightly. Is his attention personal?

Russia on the other hand is big powerful and tough. They have votes on all sorts of international sports committees. They have money to pay to organisations that tow the party line. The Russians make good dinner companions in Zurich’s Restaurant Zeughauskeller or the White Rabbit in Moscow. Semenya makes Coe look a puny runt of the litter. Russia makes him look strong and powerful, the toast of St James Square.

His IAAF administration acts accordingly.

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