Tue, 15 Oct 2019

Paris - Global head of athletics Sebastian Coe defended the allocation of three World Championships and denied corruption in bidding processes during an appearance at a French court last year, documents seen by AFP reveal.

The court interrogated Coe, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in May 2018 over the governing body's decision to award the 2017 championships to London, suspicions of bribes in the failed candidature of Qatar that year and the decision to award this year's event to Doha.

The hearing also questioned Coe about the 2021 competition being awarded to Eugene in the United States, home of equipment manufacturer Nike, a company for which Coe serves as an ambassador.

The court transcript, which is in French, records that Coe promised: "If proof is provided that candidatures could have been obtained by corruption I would be ready to reconsider these decisions."

Since the Doha championships have just been completed, amid controversy over low attendances and punishing temperatures, the only host that could be changed is Eugene, in the west coast state of Oregon.

That city has also attracted negative headlines as the home of the Oregon Project, a distance running group sponsored by Nike. The head of the project, Alberto Salazar, was banned for doping on the eve of this year's World Championships.

"Publicly, I did not support any candidacy but I voted for Doha. You are the only ones who know that I voted for Doha," double 1,500 metres Olympic champion Coe told two judges at France's National Financial Prosecutor's Office.

"The Middle East was a booming market supported by a desire to globalise sport," said Coe, who headed the IAAF's evaluation committee at the time.

Coe, who became IAAF president in 2015, said he was unaware of two payments totalling $3.5 million (3.2 million euros) from Oryx Qatar Sports Investment to a company owned by Papa Massata Diack, the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, as part of a failed attempt to land the 2017 games.

For prosecutors, this "suggests that the benefits obtained from London were even more advantageous".

"Absolutely not", replied Coe, saying that London had been chosen for its infrastructure.

In November 2014, Doha edged out Eugene and was awarded the 2019 event.

"There is a time for a bid to become a good bid," said Coe.

Eugene was designated the 2021 host in April 2015 without the usual examining procedure even though Gothenburg in Sweden had also expressed its interest. At the time, Diack was still IAAF president.

Coe said the event had never been held in the United States and "for our commercial health we had to be in the American market."

He said he had supported the Eugene bid, but insisted he knew nothing of any promises the American bid might have made to the IAAF or Lamine Diack.

Asked what role Nike played, Coe said: "I don't know. Very little, I would say."

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