Can we trust the word of the IAAF, the international governing body for athletics, when it says that it had started taking action against drug cheats before a series of critical articles were published in the London Sunday Times?
If you recall, the Sunday Times and the German television channel ARD have alleged that the IAAF did not follow up suspicious blood test results in major athletics’ championships and the London marathon.
The reports are based on the leak of blood test results from the IAAF’s database between 2001 and 2012. They show that one third of the medals in endurance races in the Olympic Games or world championships were won by athletes with suspicious blood readings, possibly owing to doping. The allegation is that this revealed an “extraordinary extent of cheating.”
Lord Coe, one of the candidates to head the organisation, and the IAAF responded with a classic public relations defence which I highlighted in a recent blog.
This strategy failed to stop of the criticism as more allegations appeared in the press and some athletes decided to release their test results.
Now, the IAAF has announced that it has provisionally suspended 28 athletes who competed at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships and returned “adverse findings” from retested samples.
Most significantly, the IAAF insists the retesting process was already underway before the Sunday Times/ARD allegations were published.
They may well be telling the truth – and it is important to state that this is a different testing to process to the one criticised by the Sunday Times and ARD.
But announcing that you have taken action and that the initiatives predated the criticism is also a classic public relations ruse used by virtually every organisation that finds itself in this position.
Indeed I highlighted it as a strategy in one of my early blogs some three months ago
and scarcely a week passes without it being used by some public or private sector body. It shows that the organisation is being pro-active, had identified the need for action before the critics and that it is in control.
The truth will no doubt emerge in the coming weeks. But, given the response of Lord Coe and the IAAF to the original revelations, it is wise to remain sceptical.