Another day, another disaster for Sebastian Coe, the president of the IAAF, as he tries to blame “mangled perception” for his decision to resign as a Nike ambassador – an explanation that fails to silence his critics
It is but the latest stage in a series of largely self-inflicted blunders which have done profound damage to his personal image and reputation as a corporate operator.
This has happened because, instead of addressing the actual issues raised by those investigating malpractice in athletics, he has chosen to defend his sport by launching an aggressive – not to mention crude and clumsy – public relations campaign.
His responses to the latest crisis suggest that he is failed to learn from what has happened since August when he condemned media investigations into allegations of doping as a “declaration of war” on athletics.
Yesterday Lord Coe stepped down from his position as a Nike ambassador, finally giving in to pressure that has been building since his election in August as IAAF president.
However, instead of accepting that the concerns raised about this clash of interest were legitimate, he fell back the flimsy technical legal defence that the IAAF’s ethics committee had said he could continue in both jobs. How convenient that he can pass the buck elsewhere.
When he resigned, he insisted that his decision was not due to a clash of interests but because “the perception and the reality have become horribly mangled” – clearly blaming the media coverage.
This is a classic public relations ploy – if a rather crude one – to explain a policy U-turn. First pass on the responsibility then blame coverage rather than substance.
But it looks as if won’t convince the doubters because it sounds so implausible.
And it shows too the way that Lord Coe has lost his previously brilliant instinctive touch with the public and media.
This has happened in a period of months when, his approach to criticism about him and his sport has been driven by a public relations and crisis management strategy, which senior figures and organisations have used in recent years when under pressure – but which are now starting to look less than subtle.
Indeed the extent to which Lord Coe has been relying on public relations was revealed this week with the revelation that “UK Sport, a government-funded public body which also receives cash from Britain’s National Lottery, contributed 63,000 pounds ($95,000) to a British public relations company for its work on Coe’s campaign.” http://www.foxsports.com/other/story/uk-public-body-provided-95-000-for-coe-s-iaaf-campaign-pr-112515
It is not for me to comment on the legality or the morality of this – though the story can hardly be said to enhance Lord Coe’s already tarnished reputation.
But it does reinforce my suspicions about the way he has performed in recent months – both as a candidate for the Presidency and since he has taken office – to allegations about his sport and the IAAF’s role in drug testing.
I have traced the PR-driven strategy that he has adopted since August in a series of blog
I don’t know the extent to which his strategy over this period was driven by himself or Vero Communications, the agency that has been hired to help his campaign to head the IAAF.
But it is possible to assess whether it has worked.
His tactics have been so obvious that even an occasional observer like me was able to highlight the way each clunky element has been put in place since August.
While it may have given him the short-term gain of an election victory, look at what has happened to his reputation since August.
Then he decided that the best approach was to get down and dirty and accuse those who criticise the IAAF’s approach to drug cheats of making “a declaration of war on my sport.”
That remark has come back to haunt him, with the latest revelations on drug cheating in Russia making them look particularly misjudged.
Moreover, he has lost his standing as a trusted man standing above the narrow vested interests – a status he had maintained brilliantly until earlier this year.
A public relations driven approach can sound so good in theory and there may be a short term gain but there is always a heavy price to pay, particularly if it is implemented so crudely.