APNewsBreak: UK gov’t ordered embassies to lobby for Coe
LONDON (AP) — The British government ordered ambassadors around the world to lobby athletics leaders to vote for Sebastian Coe in the IAAF presidential election, aiming to ensure “British interests are protected,” diplomatic messages obtained by The Associated Press reveal.
After a “Dip-Tel” — a diplomatic telegram described as “sensitive” — was sent to embassies and high commissions three months before the August 2015 election, British officials pointed out in e-mail exchanges that it didn’t include “guidance on how/if political officials can lobby in support ... whether this crosses any IAAF red lines.”
The IAAF told the AP on Friday that it was “delighted” the British government assisted Coe.
The government deliberations released to the AP following a freedom of information request provide an insight into how the machinery of Prime Minister David Cameron’s government swung into action to help a high-profile figure gain an apolitical international job.
Coe, who organized the 2012 Olympics, beat former Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka by 115 votes to 92 in the vote. Coe announced in November, following media inquiries three months after the vote, that 63,000 pounds ($90,000) was spent by government-funded U.K. Sport agency on campaign public relations.
Coe, a former member of parliament representing the ruling Conservatives, used allies in the party to have diplomatic channels advance his candidacy and ensure he was on the “Senior International Appointments” grid, a list usually reserved for securing top positions in organizations like the United Nations or NATO.
Clive Efford, the shadow sports minister for the opposition Labour Party, said the government should not have lobbied for Coe, describing it as “stupid and crass.”
“I don’t think it’s justifiable for any politician to interfere in the election of a president of a sports governing body in that way,” Efford told the AP. “Imagine if we were talking about (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We would be scandalized.”
Former sports minister Hugh Robertson, who worked on the IAAF campaign, became increasingly anxious in e-mail exchanges about delays instructing embassies to lobby for Coe, warning: “We will have let Seb down.”
While discussing the merits of throwing the government’s weight behind the campaign, one British official flagged up the opportunity presented by the escalating doping problem in Russian athletics.
In public, Coe was still downplaying concerns about Russia and backing the integrity of its athletes and leaders, while e-mails were passing through government computers in early 2015 highlighting how the scandal could be advantageous for the campaign push.
“We could play this (campaign) low key with the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office),” an official in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport wrote in February. “But due to the high profile nature of Seb’s campaign, and the current allegations of widespread doping in Russian athletics, we could decide to take a more formal approach to maximize the level of support HMG (government) can offer to ensure the best chance of success.”
Only since Coe was elected president has he accepted that there was systematic doping in Russia and an IAAF cover-up, following the publication of World Anti-Doping Agency investigations.
The opening five months of Coe’s presidency have been overshadowed by scrutiny of his failure to be more inquisitive about corruption allegations involving his predecessor Lamine Diack while Coe was an IAAF vice president. Coe was also criticized for retaining sports commercial work while leading the governing body of track and field, a matter foreseen in campaign e-mails as an “inevitable question” he would face about “potential conflicts.”
The documents show Briton Brian Cookson did not benefit from similar “direct support at PM-level” for his bid to be elected president of cycling’s governing body, the UCI, in 2013.
Coe’s campaign hoped early government intervention on his behalf could see the election became a coronation, by convincing Bubka to withdraw, but the missive to British embassies was stalled by a general election.
“If we could demonstrate that Seb had a groundswell of support around the world accompanied by UK Government backing, it may deter his only other rival, Sergei Bubka, from standing in the first instance,” a sports department official writes in one e-mail. “Although Bubka has declared himself to be a candidate, there still remains a degree of urgency.”
THE DIPLOMATIC TELEGRAM
The Dip-Tel was eventually issued to embassies on May 21 signed by “Hammond,” a reference to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. It was marked “sensitive” and included “lines to take” to promote Coe.
“We request ALL posts to lobby on behalf of Lord Coe ... this is an important international appointment for the UK and his campaign has the personal support of the Prime Minister,” the telegram said.
Leading up to the Dip-Tel being issued, correspondence between the government and U.K. Sport boasted: “Our reach of embassies is a significant advantage over the Ukraine’s so we should maximise the benefit.” A Foreign Office official writes that they need to be clear “we’re instructing Posts (embassies) to lobby.”
The senders of those e-mails are redacted, like many details in the correspondence reviewed by the AP.
Among 12 talking points in the Dip-Tel, ambassadors were told: “Encourage your IAAF delegate, if possible, to declare their support publicly.”
Creating the telegram was not a smooth process. In correspondence passing through government departments a day before the Dip-Tel was issued, concerns are flagged up that one sentence “doesn’t really fit with the non-arrogant approach we are promoting.”
That appeared to refer to ambassadors being told: “International Federations regularly take decisions that directly impact on the UK’s ability to be successful in international sport — in areas such as rules, regulations, qualification processes, eligibility, new disciplines, doping issues and major event biding. We want to ensure that British interests are protected, secured and advanced at the highest levels of international decision-making.”
In an attached briefing note attached to the telegram, diplomats are advised to tell athletics leaders: “Great Britain was a founding member of the IAAF with a strong culture of athletics; it is also politically stable with a network of embassies and high commissions worldwide.”
The briefing note to envoys also pledges that Coe “has the experience, knowledge, capabilities and vision to build on Lamine Diack’s legacy.” At this stage there was already mounting concern in world sport that Diack’s legacy would not be anything to boast about.
When giving evidence about the IAAF scandal to a parliamentary select committee last month, Coe gave no clear response when asked by a legislator whether he was displaying a “lack of curiosity” or “willful blindness” by not questioning Diack about corruption, given that the Senegalese had already been reprimanded in 2011 by the International Olympic Committee over a FIFA kickbacks scandal and that allegations surrounding his son were mounting.
When asked why he didn’t push Diack about suspected wrongdoing by his son, Coe told legislators: “There were no allegations being made about the president.”
In December 2014, early in the official campaign, Coe was sent an extensive e-mail with links to a dozen news stories, including several about Diack’s son. Coe was also sent an email with a link to a newspaper article in which Dick Pound — before being engaged to lead the World Anti-Doping Agency investigation into Russia — “blasts IAAF for not responding to allegations of systematic doping in Russian sport.”
“We are delighted that the British government, or any other government, actively supports any candidate being elected to the IAAF. This is an important international sports role.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports