Lord Coe – media manipulator or leader?

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Lord Coe is approaching a defining moment in his leadership of the IAAF, international athletics’ ruling body, as accusations pour out about corruption in the sport.

On the 9th November the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) publishes a report into claims of doping cover-ups, extortion and money-laundering in athletics which is said to show “a whole different scale of corruption,” even compared to Fifa.

This follows allegations that Lamine Diack, Lord Coe’s predecessor as the organisation’s president, is facing allegations that he took bribes to cover up positive doping tests; and reports in August that the IAAF did not follow up on suspicious blood tests.

He can either – as he did in August – rely on the strategy of accusing those who criticise the IAAF’s approach to drug cheats of making “a declaration of war on my sport,” and rely on a carefully constructed media campaign.

Or Lord Coe can announce that he is prepared to take on those who have done so much damage to his sport in clear unequivocal terms.

I claim no expertise in athletics – but I can smell attempts at media manipulation a mile off. And that was precisely what Lord Coe did in August as I highlighted in a couple of blogs.

So here are a few signs to look out when Lord Coe speaks next week. You can find the detail in my earlier blogs – https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/can-we-trust-the-iaaf-this-time/ and https://deceivingus.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/lord-coes-deceptive-response-to-athletes-drug-allegations/

But here is a summary of Lord Coe’s approach in August when he reacted furiously to reports in the Sunday Times and on the German television channel ARD that the IAAF did not follow up suspicious blood test results in major athletics’ championships and the London marathon.

In words that sound rather hollow today he insisted that “the idea that my sport just sat there either covering up wrongdoing or just being incompetent could not be wider of the mark.”

And he argued that “there is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug testing that warrants this kind of attack.”

As The Times athletics correspondent Matt Dickinson noted on the 5th November, thes comments were a major error. “It was reckless talk that has already damaged Coe’s credibility. He should have declared the need for athletics to get to the bottom of such damaging allegations while protecting clean athletes.”

To me, these words also reveal much about Lord Coe’s approach. His instinct is to use classic PR defence tactics rather than address the questions raised by his critics.

As I wrote in more detail in the blogs mentioned above, these tactics include;

  1. Try and change the terms of the debate.
  2. Challenge the credentials of your critics.
  3. Switch discussion on to the way the information has been acquired, hinting this has been done illegally.
  4. Get your PR team and lawyers to write something long and convoluted.

So, when Lord Coe speaks in the coming days, check to see if he is using any of these tricks.

My guess is that his tactics may be somewhat more subtle than those he used in August against the Sunday Times and ARD.

So, always remember that, even if he does admit that athletics is in crisis, Lord Coe is a PR man at heart and so is almost certain to see presentation as part of the solution.

This means we have to ask whether the cancellation of the sport’s annual awards ceremony is a PR gesture or an indication of a new approach to corruption.

That shows just how far he has to go  before he can appear credible again.

So I urge you: Don’t just listen to the words he says: listen to how he says them.

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