Oh, Lordy.

By Mario Fraioli

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve gone off on a proper Seb Coe rant but this morning seems as good a time as any to get back in the groove, so here we go:

— What do you notice in this picture? How about this one? These two images Coe posted from last week’s Nitro Athletics meet in Australia raise a few questions that deserve answers: 1. Why did he cover up the logo on his shirt (New Balance) but not shorts or shoes (Nike)? 2. Why is Coe not decked out in ASICS, the official footwear and apparel sponsor of the governing body he heads up? 3. If it doesn’t happen to matter which brand of footwear and apparel the president of the IAAF—who gave up his lucrative ambassadorship role with Nike—decides to wear when he’s out and about at a track meet (in this case, one that isn’t sanctioned by the IAAF), then why cover up any manufacturer’s logo at all? 4. New Balance paid big $$ to have their logo on the official English jersey Coe is wearing, just as ASICS paid big $$ to have their logo on the uniforms the Japanese athletes he’s posing with in the photo are wearing. The Japanese athletes, all of whom are wearing different brands of shoes (Mizuno, ASICS, Nike from what I can tell) based on their individual sponsorships, are not allowed to cover up the sponsor’s logo on their country’s uniforms, so why can Coe? 5. What is the current status of Coe’s relationship with Nike, his sponsor of nearly 40 years? 6. Why does any of this matter?

I’ve only got the answer to the last question and it comes down to two very important reasons: 1. Sponsorship and logo placement are an ongoing hot-button issues in the world of athletics and will be for the foreseeable future. The head of the sport’s governing body should be subjected to the same rules as any athlete or administrator in this regard if the sport has any chance of moving forward. 2. Confidence in Coe has been low since he took over the IAAF presidency in 2015 and deliberate stunts like this one do nothing to help athletes, fans and potential sponsors regain trust in him or the governance of the sport in general.

Coe recently went on the radio with Australia’s Tracey Lee Holmes and she didn’t shy away from asking him tough questions regarding the Nitro meet, the Russian doping scandal, Caster Semenya’s curious case, retrospective drug testing and more. It’s worth a listen, particularly around the 44-minute mark when Coe says that “we will defend [Semenya’s] right to compete” before explaining that the IAAF will continue to challenge the Court of Arbitration’s 2015 ruling that it was “unable to conclude that hyperandrogenic female athletes may benefit from such a significant performance advantage that it is necessary to exclude them from competing in the female category.” The contradiction here is obvious, and troubling. It’s also ironic, given the timing of this excellent 90-second spot entitled “Equality” that Nike—Coe’s aforementioned former sponsor—recently released. “Opportunity should not discriminate,” the commercial’s narrator says. “The ball should bounce the same for everyone.”

— To give Coe credit where it’s due, he did just put a ruling in place freezing the transfer of allegiance in athletics, which had gotten comically out of hand with the likes of Qatar, Turkey and Bahrain buying top talent from Kenya and other African nations in order to have a presence on the medal stand. “The present situation is wrong,” Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, Africa Area Group Representative on the IAAF Council, said in a release. “What we have is a wholesale market for African talent open to the highest bidder. Our present rules are being manipulated to the detriment of athletics’ credibility.”

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