Vincent Hogan: Sebastian Coe's abject lack of humility was lamentable
Published 14/11/2015 | 02:30
On Thursday night, BBC Three re-ran 'The Lance Armstrong Story', a documentary it is hard to imagine ever becoming stale or old.
A bit like watching the Twin Towers tumble, it seems well nigh impossible to look away from the unravelling of the great Armstrong lie, no matter how often viewed. His swaggering chutzpah still thieves the breath away. The Texan believed he was bomb-proof because he understood how little real appetite the authorities had for running a clean sport.
I've watched it three times now and, somehow, the visual image that resonates most powerfully is of Armstrong, previously gaunt and shaven-headed during his cancer fight, careering towards a stage finish at Sestrieres in the '99 Tour as if a pillion passenger on a motorbike.
His expressionless face betrays not a hint of discomfort as he decimates the field. Watching him fly, a startled Greg LeMond recalls the observation of an elderly French mechanic. "Ah prende le jus," he shrugged. "Ah on the juice".
Armstrong's efforts were, literally, inhuman. But it would take 14 years to get him into that chair with Oprah because cycling's custodians were, essentially, complicit with the deceit. For all the heroic efforts of those pursuing the truth, in the end it was his own cavalier arrogance that brought Armstrong down.
Quite the most lamentable aspect to Sebastian Coe's Channel 4 interview with Jon Snow this week was the abject lack of humility.
A house put in his care was burning down, yet the concept of responsibility seemed to escape him. Then again, perhaps he'd simply been too busy to smell the smoke. If it is proved that he was unwitting right-hand man to a crook, could he not claim simply to have been a victim of what he himself terms his own broad range of "skill-sets"? Everybody wanted Lord Coe after all.
Not just Nike with that nice, lucrative ambassadorial gig, but CSM, a sports marketing consultancy that he chairs; not to mention the British Olympic Committee (chair), the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Commission (member) and, formerly, FIFA's Ethics Commission (chair); England's 2018 World Cup-bid committee; London's Olympic bid (chair); London's Olympic Organising Committee (chair)
Maybe the question shouldn't be whether or not he was negligent on the IAAF job, but how on earth he remembered where he needed to be on any given day?
Because Coe's grasp of what has been happening to his sport suggests some kind of cognitive exhaustion. Put it this way, why has he made no contact with Vitaly and Yulia Stepanov, the young couple whose extraordinary courage essentially exposed the great Russian swindle? The pair have been in hiding with their two-year-old son ever since, yet no communication to them from the IAAF or, even more depressingly, WADA.
Not even a public expression of gratitude.
Instead Coe, talked initially of "a declaration of war" on his sport, depicting the bravery of whistleblowers as some kind of ugly conspiracy, a contamination best met with fierce resistance. That is what has been so shocking. The hostility towards those putting (literally) everything on the line in the fight against fraud.
Coe spent seven years as number two to Lamine Diack, the former IAAF president now under investigation for corruption.
To be fair, it isn't stretching credibility to suggest that he simply would not have been privy to Diack's alleged opportunism. Extortion wouldn't have been recorded in the minutes of any meetings.
But did he not hear rumours? Was he not aware of growing murmurings?
Sadly, his tone to Snow on Monday bore none of the emotional intelligence you might hope for in the custodian to a sport in crisis.
It was as if his seven years as vice-president had been, somehow, irrelevant. As if he couldn't be tainted by anything that had gone before. So be it if Diack was on the take. Coe was sheriff now.
The sheer scale of what was unfolding seemed to escape him.
This wasn't simply about corrupt officials taking money for favours as with the IOC and FIFA, this was about them writing a crooked history of their sport, about the police themselves defrauding the athletes.
It took Coe an inordinate amount of time to understand that. Until this week, the whistleblowers and their media supporters were an irritation to him, despite the Russian story first coming to light as far back as 2008. Coe, it seemed, believed utterly in Diack, a man censured by the IOC in 2011 for a case of alleged bribery.
It is thus, at the very least, intriguing to return to an interview Coe gave to the magazine, 'PR Week', just last July.
In it, he touched upon the kind of moral dilemmas a man with so many corporate obligations might encounter. "Bribery is a part of everyday life in much of the world," he said. "Do we reject any suggestion of accommodation with bribery and foist our way of doing things on the rest of the world - thereby exposing us to accusations of cultural imperialism?
"Or do we abandon our standards and fall in line with 'different' ways of doing things that we believe are wrong? It might be an ethics exam question called 'Seb's Dilemma'."
Coe seemed to be saying then that cross-cultural issues of governance tend to be more complicated than we allow. That, sometimes, a kind of ethical compromise is the only viable option.
But the protection of sport surely cannot be subject to such compromise. I very much doubt Coe is guilty of anything even close to impropriety here. But apathy at the wheel?