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Sebastian Coe cracks down on high-profile athletes, drug cheats

The World Athletics president says that being a high-profile athlete "no longer protects you from the investigative powers of sport"

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World Athletics president Sebastian Coe is predicting that it will be more difficult than ever to cheat at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, and he is warning high-profile track and field athletes that their status will no longer shield them from drug testers. He said in a statement that fundamental changes in the system will ensure those caught cheating will be “fearlessly and ruthlessly weeded out.” 

These changes are thanks largely in part to the independent Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which Coe says effectively “removes the decision making from any undue political interference.” Investigations made by the AIU will not be influenced by the status of the athlete in question, and so Coe believes it has restored some confidence among athletes that cheaters will be caught and punished appropriately.

Coe’s statement comes on the heels of 100m world champion Christian Coleman’s two-year suspension, which was handed out at the end of October after the American sprinter missed three consecutive drug tests in 2019. He will be ineligible to compete until May 22, 2022.

RELATED: Christian Coleman must serve 2-year suspension after all

Initially, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency dropped its case against Coleman, allowing him to compete at the 2019 world championships. This is because of a loophole in the anti-doping system that put his first whereabouts failure outside of the 12-month window. When he missed yet another test at the very end of 2019, he was provisionally suspended.

Christian Coleman. Photo: Instagram

RELATED: Christian Coleman suspended for yet another missed drug test

In his statement, Coe acknowledges that losing its fastest man is not a good thing for the sport of track and field, but he says the ban demonstrates that the system is effective. There are those who are suggesting that the whereabouts system punishment, which is a two-year ban for athletes who miss three consecutive drug tests in a 12-month period, is unnecessarily severe, but Coe says the system is clear, unambiguous and is not “arcane maritime law.” Every athlete should be able to adhere to it without difficulty.

RELATED: Former 1,500m world champion suspended for whereabouts failures

Some critics are also questioning Coe’s insistence that Tokyo will be the cleanest Olympics on record. He did, after all, make similar claims heading into the 2012 Olympics in London.

In response, Coe emphasizes that technology has improved since then, and that testing is much more sophisticated and intelligence-led. They also now have the AIU, which was created in 2017, to help them weed out cheaters. For this reason Coe says that he is proud to say that World Athletics will have better systems in place than any other federation at the Tokyo Games.

“And what I can say is if athletes do cheat there is a greater chance of them being caught in Tokyo than probably any previous Games,” he added.

IOC headquarters in Lausanne. Photo: IOC/Christophe Moratal

Coe has made these bold claims less than one week after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) made the decision to cut Russia’s doping ban from four years down to just two, a decision many critics are slamming as weak, noting that it does nothing to protect the rights of clean athletes.

RELATED: No Russian flag, anthem or country name allowed for Tokyo 2021, world championships