Sebastian Coe

The first track championships in the Middle East

The first track championships in the Middle East

DOHA, Qatar — Like the sun rising in the east, some things are entirely predictable. 

1. Some number of athletes, particularly those from Europe, bitching about conditions at a world track and field championships. Observation: ’It’s hot.’ (Captains of the obvious!) Followed by hyperbole: a ‘disaster.’ 

2. The see-saw relationship with the press and track and field’s governing body. A few days into a championship, the press writes sky-is-falling stories. (Empty seats! It’s hot! A catastrophe!) The authorities naturally feel compelled to push back, IAAF president Seb Coe telling Associated Press in a story posted Wednesday that the complainers need to move along

“Can I just be a bit blunt about this?” Coe, elected here to a second four-year term as head of track and field’s world governing body, asked rhetorically. “The athletes talking about externalities are probably not the ones who are going to be walking home with medals from here. I have much, much bigger commitments and visions for our sport than to turn and head for home because we take an event into an area that poses problems.”

These 2019 IAAF world championships, now heading into the final weekend, seem destined to mark one of the most complex — and yet one of the most intriguing — legacies of any major championship from these first years of the 21st century. 

World Relays: at an inflection point

World Relays: at an inflection point

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Journalism is storytelling, and storytelling necessarily involves tension, and from the get-go an irreconcilable tension dictated the way local organizers and track and field’s international governing body approached this fourth edition of the IAAF World Relays.

The Japanese hosts necessarily and understandably viewed these Relays at 72,327-seat International Stadium — site of the 2002 World Cup soccer final that saw Brazil defeat Germany, 2-0 — as a test event for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Tokyo is maybe 35 minutes away. At a Friday news conference, Hiroshi Yokokawa, president of the Japanese track and field federation and member of the IAAF council, said, “The road [on which] we are now standing is heading straight to the Tokyo 2020 Games.” Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Athens hammer throw gold medalist who is the Tokyo 2020 sports director, called the Relays a “milestone for the Tokyo 2020 Games.” Even the athletes understood the direction, Ryota Yamagata, who ran on the Japanese men’s silver-medal 4x100 relay at the 2016 Rio Games, declaring at that same briefing, “We want to have a good start to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and 37[-plus] seconds is a good benchmark.”

Compare to the words of IAAF president Seb Coe.

The Relays, Coe said at that very same news conference, make for a “suffusion of fun and innovation.”

Cue the Vangelis: cross-country for Paris 2024

Cue the Vangelis: cross-country for Paris 2024

Yes, yes, yes, Chariots of Fire, the 1981 movie that won four Oscars in telling the story of track and field at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is all about the sprints, not cross-country. 

OK, OK, OK, Chariots of Fire is about the Olympics but something bigger. It’s a story about British athletes at those 1924 Paris Olympics, one who is a devout Scottish Christian running for the glory of God, the other an English Jew and what it takes to overcome prejudice.

People, we need not quibble here with details. 

When people think about Paris and the 1924 Olympics, what do they think of? The iconic beach running scenes from the movie, right? The sunlight! The sand! The sea foam! Especially since Mr. Bean — Rowan Atkinson — had great fun with the whole thing during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games.

Those beach scenes are, more or less, kinda-sorta, cross-country running. Good enough, anyway. At least for this point: 

The 2024 Games will be 100 years since the Games were last in Paris. As things happen, those 1924 Games were also the last time cross-county was on the Olympic program.

Paris 2024 organizers want cross-country back. So does track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF. 

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

Prediction: the Russians will be at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, and as Russians.

Assertion: the Russians should be at the PC 2018 Games, and as Russians.

Rationale: the central principle of the Olympic movement is inclusion. 

Coe in charge, track at an inflection point

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Let’s get the joke out of the way early. For a sport savaged by months of doping stories, it turns out there’s a legal marijuana store literally across the street from the Oregon Convention Center, site of the 2016 track and field world indoor championship, which features a groovy, granola-crunchy green track. Can’t make this stuff up. Seriously, now: track and field arrives for the 2016 world indoors, a four-day run that got underway Thursday night, at an inflection point.

Since Sebastian Coe was elected president last August of track’s world governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, the headlines have mostly been grim. Claims of rampant corruption in the regime of former IAAF president Lamine Diack — allegations that Diack's administration was ripe with conflict of interest, graft, money for cover-ups. And, of course, doping, doping, doping. Russians, Russians, Russians. Oh, and how about the Kenyans, Ethiopians, Moroccans and more?

Wait — what’s this? UK Anti-Doping announces Wednesday a life ban against a track coach there, Dr. George Skafidis, in the wake of nine, count them, nine anti-doping violations, all relating to sprinter Bernice Wilson. In Britain? What?

The focus Thursday shifted to the sport itself, with the IAAF and local organizers, led by Vin Lananna, giving the first night of the championships over entirely to the pole vault. France's Renaud Lavillenie won the men’s event, setting a world indoor championships record, 6.02 meters, or 19 feet 9 inches. The world record, which Lavillenie set two years ago, is 6.16, 20-2 1/2. On Thursday, he made three attempts at a new world record, 6.17, 20-2 3/4. No go. American Sam Kendricks took second, clearing 5.80, 19-0 1/4. On the women's side, the U.S. went one-two, Jenn Suhr winning in a championship-record 4.90, 16-0 3/4, Sandi Morris taking second in 4.85, 15-11. As evidence of the upswing in women's pole vaulting, Thursday's competition marked the first time four women in the same competition cleared 4.80, 15-9.

"I think the Summer Olympics are going to be pretty crazy," Morris said afterward.

Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champion, winning 2016 world indoor gold // Getty Images for IAAF

London 2012 gold medalist and current world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie of France making his into to the 2016 indoor worlds // Getty Images for IAAF

The rest of the field jumping, Lavillenie waits to start -- part of the mental game in pole vault. He entered at 5.75 meters, or 18-10 1/4 // Getty Images for IAAF

Lavillenie after a scary end to his second attempt at 6.17: "I was just able to manage it and fall safely. It’s not so often I do something like that. It happens. Pole vault is very dangerous and very intense. That’s why we love it." // Getty Images for IAAF

Lavillenie, after, meeting the media. Track junkies: in the blue warmup jacket beyond Lavillenie, that's Dan O'Brien, the 1996 Olympic decathlon winner

As the vaulters did their thing, KC and the Sunshine Band could be heard belting out their mid-'70s anthem, “That’s the way (I like it),” just one of the musical numbers featured on a loop that played over the convention speakers. In another twist, the vaulters got individual introductions — each athlete running in turn into the arena down a ramp, his or her name in lights.

Medal ceremonies: back downtown at Pioneer Courthouse Square, with more music and that Portlandia hipster vibe.

Attendance Thursday at the convention center: a robust 6,924.

It's like track and field was, you know, making a genuine effort to be more interesting. And, even, innovating.

Pioneer Courthouse Square: set up to be the 2016 world indoors medals and party center

This is the reality of what is happening with Coe, in particular, and that is particularly worth noting at the start of these championships, the first world indoors in the United States since 1987.

“The USA has historically been the powerhouse of track and field,” Coe said earlier Thursday at a sun-splashed news conference in that square. “Yet given its great economic power, it is still a country where the general perception of track and field is low. The regeneration of that is taking place here in Oregon and I genuinely believe this will be a reawakening of track and field in this country. This is a new and exciting chapter in the history of our sport."

Sebastian Coe at Thursday's news conference, flanked by the husband-and-wife team of Canada's Brianne Theisen-Eaton and American Ashton Eaton, both multi-event stars // Getty Images for IAAF

Let's be real: that's going to take time.

Things were broken. Now they have to get fixed. Coe is the guy to fix them. New chapters, regeneration, reawakening — whatever label you like — don’t just happen overnight.

Which is why the many cries for Coe’s resignation are seriously misplaced.

As Coe said at that news conference in that square, “Our sport is still strong. Not to deny we haven’t gone through challenging, dark days.”

Later, asked specifically whether he believes there are clean Russian athletes, a ridiculous question in its own right, as if an entire country of 140 million people can’t produce one soul that competes without drugs, he said, “I’m sure there are. But the reality is we need to get the athletes,” wherever in the world they might be, “back into systems that people are trusting.”

That's half of what's what. Here is the other: doping is not just a track and field problem (hello, tennis star Maria Sharapova, swim champion Yulia Efimova and others now looking at meldonium issues). It is not just a Russia problem.

“We are responsible for our sport,” Coe said. “We are not the world’s policeman.”

A World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report — the first part delivered in November, the second in January — suggested that Diack ran a closely held conspiracy to cover up certain doping results, mostly in Russia.

Diack and his longtime lawyer, Herbert Cissé, are said to be facing criminal inquiry in France.

Last week, the IAAF’s policy-making council met in Monaco, the federation’s longtime base.

Process isn’t sexy. Process takes time. The press loves (even a hint of) negativity.

At the same time, Coe was duly elected after a hard-fought campaign, defeating the former pole vault legend Sergey Bubka. That means Coe earned — better, deserves — the opportunity to effect change.

The council was met with 51 measures. It approved 51.

It’s a measure of how into-the-21st century the IAAF has to go, alternatively an indicator of how Diack ran the federation for 16 years as more or less a personal fiefdom, that a good number of the 51 deal with basic, albeit essential, governance items.

For instance, things like getting double signatories on checks. Or job descriptions. Or standard HR controls.

Any institutional change is a combination of change wrought from without and within. Coe is — this is key to understand — a change agent.

So, too, Stephanie Hightower, the USA Track & Field president who was elected last August to the IAAF council.

As the USATF board said in December 2014, in a statement when it went with Hightower instead of the longtime U.S. representative to the IAAF, Bob Hersh:

“Change is difficult for any organization. It is especially difficult when it involves long-serving officials. In 2015, there will be significant, structural change at the IAAF – with their leadership, with their direction, vision and politics. This is a different era and a different time. We think Stephanie Hightower provides us with the best chance to move forward as part of that change.”

From 2011-15, Hersh had been the senior IAAF vice president, Coe one of three other vice presidents.

Once Coe was elected, he immediately turned in part to Hightower and to Frankie Fredericks, the former sprinter from Namibia who for years has been making a new career in sports administration.

Some have groused, and loudly, that as an IAAF vice president, Coe “must have known” what was going on with Diack.

Using that same logic, why aren’t the many critics of the USATF process by which Hightower was selected to run for the IAAF council asking the same about Hersh?

This, understand, is a rhetorical question — not what Hersh did or did not know. But those who have been often been the loudest in their criticism are not being consistent. You want to criticize Coe because he was vice president — but think it was somehow wrong for USATF not to re-appoint Hersh, who as the No. 2 man, the senior VP, should have been most closely involved with the organization and with Diack?

Indeed, the suggestion that Coe “must have known” itself betrays logic.

The IAAF council met maybe three or four times a year. That’s roughly 10 days of 365. Coe had been an IAAF vice president since 2007; from 2005-12, he was thoroughly occupied as boss of the London Olympics.

It’s a little bit like being vice president of a school board and getting asked why you didn’t know the high school basketball coach was stealing from the travel fund.

Was there talk at the council during Diack’s latter years about doping in Russia? Obviously: there were public records of sanctions. But if the word from the top was that Russians were being caught because of advances in blood passport work, precisely what more should any of the roughly two dozen on the council have done?

To reiterate a point made in this space before: the point of a conspiracy, which is what Diack alleged to have run, is to keep it hidden from those not part of it.

Coe’s “must have known” is one of four apparent points of objection that have been raised over these past several months, in tiresome fashion.

Coe at Thursday's opening ceremony, with Portland 2016 local organizing chief Vin Lannana and Portland mayor Charlie Hales // Getty Images for IAAF

Objection No. 2:

When he succeeded Diack last August, Coe called Diack the “spiritual leader” of the sport.

Given what we know now, Coe could have used a different phrase, for sure. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But three notes here:

One, when you succeed someone, you generally say nice things.

Two, Coe would never — repeat, never — have used those words if he’d had even an inkling of what is alleged to have gone down. Coe is not only a smart guy, he has had a career in the hard-knocks school of British politics.

Three, there has been zero suggestion from law enforcement linking Coe to any misconduct or wrongdoing, and you can believe he has been in contact with French agents.

Objection No. 3:

Again in Beijing upon election, Coe gave a legalistic response, rather than one more PR-savvy, when asked about his longtime ambassadorial role with Nike, saying in essence his relationship was well-known and -documented. Coe has since relinquished the position.

This was an optics problem, and nothing more.

Those who would savage Coe cried, conflict of interest! Coe was affiliated with Nike for nearly 40 years. That run included the years he oversaw the London 2012 effort. Where were the critics — particularly in the British parliament, where he regularly appeared for status reports for 2012 — during all that time?

Objection No. 4:

Upon the publication early last August of a story in The Sunday Times that claimed more than 800 athletes, and a third of all medalists in endurance events at recent Olympics and world championships had suspicious blood results not followed up by the IAAF, Coe called the allegations “a declaration of war” on the sport.

In turn, that more or less prompted many, particularly in the British press, to declare a war in print with Coe.

Here it is worth referring to Part II of the WADA-commissioned report:

The “database” on which the story revolved was “in reality, no such thing,” but a “compilation of various test results.” The three-member panel, headed by Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, the first WADA president, said it “would not have been legally possible to bring a successful sanctioning process against any athlete based on the values in the IAAF database.”

Also: “The [commission] was provided with no explanation for the differences in approach and cautions expressed … in previously written scholarly publications on the subject matter and the opinions expressed in the work commissioned by The Sunday Times. The differences are quite significant.”

Going forward, it’s worth emphasizing that in significant measure the announcement of new doping cases — specifically in Kenya and Ethiopia — marks the results of basic anti-doping standards finally being applied to, or adopted by, the rest of the world.

Which, in its way, is what Coe observed at that sunny news conference.

He said, “People want immediate action. People want immediate results. People want immediate change.

“It takes time.”

Like a plague of locusts, so predictable

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Like one of those locust cycles that erupt with scientific predictability, here we are five months before an Olympic Games and, just on schedule, there’s an outbreak among the ladies and gentlemen of the press of OMG the-sky-is-falling. What, you say? These Rio Games are on track to be a disaster! Zika! Water pollution! Slow ticket sales! Ack! Danger, Will Robinson! Or maybe, you know, not.

It’s so foreseeable. It’s also eminently tiresome. This happens every single Olympics.

Here’s a call for reasonableness, a major dose of perspective and some balance. Not everything is a crisis, or needs to be treated that way.

It's elemental that there's no need to be Pollyanna.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun addresses the media at the USOC Olympic media summit at The Beverly Hilton hotel. To his right: USOC board chair Larry Probst // Getty Images

At the same time, in advance of every single Olympics in recent memory, the press stirs itself — and consequently readers and viewers — into a gloom-and-doom, bad news-mostly frenzy.

Then the Olympic cauldron gets lit and, what do you know — the spectacle if not miracle that is the Games takes over and the next 17 days are predictably magic.

Bet that’s what happens in Rio, where the Games start on Aug. 5, roughly 150 days away.

In the meantime, and for entertainment purposes only of course, here’s a take on an old game — instead of a bean in a jar for every time a newlywed couple celebrates being married, put a dollar into a jar at each mention in the media between now and then of Zika and the Olympics.

By Aug. 5, you’d have enough to buy — well, so many mosquito nets you might do the honorable thing and send stacks to Africa.

"World Malaria Day" this year is April 25, aimed at focusing attention on that silent, relentless killer: 214 million cases of the disease in 2015, 438,000 deaths globally, 90 percent of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, 78 percent children under 5.

About 3.2 billion people are at risk, a little under half the world’s population, for malaria.

For sure not to dismiss anyone's suffering anywhere, but what's at issue is a major discrepancy in scale: 1.5 million cases against 3.2 billion people at risk. Why no slew of journalistically responsible stories about malaria?

For emphasis: Zika is assuredly important. Too, it is newsworthy.

Typically, Zika leads to a few days of aches and fever. But it has been linked to brain damage in roughly 650 babies. And a very few with the Zika virus also develop a paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome (the paralysis is normally reversible).

But, as the opening of the pre-Games U.S. Olympic Committee’s media summit Monday in Beverly Hills, California, underscored, the relentless focus on Zika is at least one and probably several degrees too many.

As things opened Monday, with a session involving several U.S. swim stars, including Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin, the first question — with so many amazing stories sitting on stage — was about Zika.

Right after that came a session with USOC chairman Larry Probst, chief executive Scott Blackmun, high-performance chief Alan Ashley and marketing boss Lisa Baird — and a half-dozen questions about Zika.

The leadership group also got questions about doping in Russia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Including: what level of confidence does the USOC have that American athletes, particularly in track and field, will compete on a level playing field? And as a leader in the Olympic movement, does the USOC have any role in trying to shape a fix?

Hello? Don’t such questions pre-suppose that we in the United States are sporting the white hats and everyone everywhere else is not? Talk about short memories. It was only 12 years ago, before the Athens 2004 Games, that the United States, and in particular the U.S. track and field program — in the midst of the sordid BALCO mess — served as world poster child for dirty play.

Or maybe everyone has already forgotten that it was just three short years ago that Lance Armstrong, arguably the king of doping, had his memorable “confession” with Oprah Winfrey.

Oh, and inevitably, here came a question to the USOC leadership about whether the International Olympic Committee ought to consider an “alternate bid city” if “things start to fall apart.”

As if.

The USOC, remember, put Chicago up for the 2016 Games. It did not win. Rio did.

Just try to imagine the diplomatic, political and economic consequences of, for instance, yanking the Games away from their first edition in South America. Or, two years ago, amid the Sochi-is-not-ready whining and wailing, taking the Games away from Russia and Vladimir Putin.

The welcome turn finally came Monday afternoon with a group of track and field stars: Aries Merritt (looking healthy after a  kidney transplant), Meb Keflezighi (the marathon star still going strong in his 40s), Allyson Felix (trying to run both the 200 and 400), Alysia Montaño (a champion pre-, during and post-pregnancy), Dawn Harper-Nelson (thoughtful, eloquent gold-medal hurdler) and Ashton Eaton (decathlon champion and world record-holder who is, simply, one of the truly great guys in Olympic sport).

The track and field group got questions about doping, for sure (Montaño: “not really confident” the playing field is clean). But for the most part the questions were about the athletes, and their stories (who knew Felix loves Beyoncé tunes?).

There are way, way, way more things going on in advance of these Olympics than Zika.

Like Paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden, who — take that, Galen Rupp, with talk of a 10k and marathon double — said from the stage that she intends in Rio to go for seven golds on the track: the 100, 400, 800, 1500, 5k, marathon and relay.

Tatyana McFadden on stage Monday // Getty Images

"You have to transform perceptions," the head of the International Paralympic Committee, Sir Philip Craven, said from two places away. "You only do this with positive experiences."

"I think we have to recognize what our role is," Blackmun had said earlier on the stage. "We're one of 200 countries that participates in the Olympic Games. By definition, you have to have someone in charge of the overall project. Every single Games brings its own unique set of challenges that causes people to question whether the Games should've been awarded to 'X.' "

Fact: it’s going to be winter in Brazil during the Olympics. Zika risk will thus likely be way, way down.

Fact: after the Olympic circus packs up, the people who live in Brazil are still, for the most part, going to be living in Brazil. You want to talk about Zika? No problem. You want to do a story now? Sure. But — make a commitment to get back to the story in a year or two, when the Olympic spotlight is not on.

(Query: last story earning front-page attention about LGBT issues in Russia was — when?)

As Adeline Gray, the female U.S. wrestling world champion who took part in a test event in Rio in January, said afterward, referring to the threat of the virus, "It’s part of traveling. This is something that the people of Brazil have to deal with on a daily basis. The fact that I’m only here for a short time. It’s not really fair for me to freak out about it to that extent. I think if I was planning to have a child in the next month, I would be extremely uneasy about this.”

American Adeline Gray (blue) wrestling Erica Wiebe (red) of Canada during a January test event in Rio // Getty Images

Fact: as the USOC’s leadership made plain on Monday, it’s up to every single athlete to decide for him or herself whether to go to Rio. Prediction: every single eligible athlete will go. That’s what Olympic athletes do. We all live in a world of risk; they live for a moment that comes only once every four years, and maybe just once in a lifetime.

Blackmun said he was not aware of “any single athlete” making the decision not to go.

It was up to Coughlin, the versatile and veteran U.S. swimmer, to put things in some perspective. She took that first question Monday morning about Zika, answering from the stage, “There are always things that are beyond our control at the Olympic Games. This is just one of them.”

Natalie Coughlin posing Monday for the camera // Getty Images

Let us review many of the recent pre-Games hysterias:

Sydney 2000: calendared for September, not July or August. Would anyone watch? Well, yes. Remember Cathy Freeman? Lighting that cauldron of fire? And her 400-meter victory, just one race on what was an amazing night on the track? How quickly the narrative turned — Sydney, best Summer Games ever.

Salt Lake 2002, the first post-9/11 Games: terrorism. Everything turned out just fine.

Athens 2004, the first Summer Games after 9/11: again, terrorism. Many media concerns even put reporters and crew through gas-mask training. Everything turned out just fine.

Beijing 2008: Human rights. Cost overruns. And air quality, with a tornado of stories warning that the skies were going to be filthy and the athletes might not even, you know, breathe. The skies were mostly blue. As for athletic performance: Michael Phelps, eight gold medals. Too inside for you? Outside: Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru winning the men’s marathon (on a hot, sunny morning) in an Olympic-record 2:06.32.

London 2012: again, terror (the July 2005 underground attacks). Cost overruns. General angst from the “forensic” British press, to use the term favored by now-IAAF president Sebastian Coe. Now London is, in the minds of many outside Australia, considered the best Games ever.

Sochi 2014: LGBT issues. Black Widow bombers. Putin. $51 billion. Hotel rooms not quite ready a few days before opening ceremony. Everything turned out fine.

No less an authority than the Economist — Nelson Mandela’s magazine of choice during his 27 years of imprisonment at Robbin Island — published a feature a few days ago under a headline that declared, “An Olympic oasis,” and, underneath, asserted in plain terms that Zika “will not be much of a threat to the Rio Games.”

It went on:

“There is already much to celebrate about the Rio Olympics, though with their city turned into an obstacle course of road works for the new metro and bus lanes, cariocas” — what the locals call themselves — “may not yet feel like cheering. There has been no obvious waste or corruption. The city has used the Games as a catalyst for a wider transformation.”

The mayor since 2009, Eduardo Paes, “tore down an elevated motorway that scarred the old port, burying it in a tunnel. The port area now hosts new museums and public spaces; next month a tramway will open there. Apart from better public transport, the Olympics may bequeath an overdue revival of Rio’s decayed and crime-ridden historic centre. If urban renewal were a sport, that would win a gold medal.”

You want a story, ladies and gentlemen? That’s a story.

 

Ten deep (sort of, maybe) thoughts

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Not everything that happens is itself worth a stand-alone column, even on the space-aplenty internet.

To that end, some recent news nuggets:

-- U.S. Olympic athletes send letter asking for other Russian sports to be investigated. Reaction: 1. There’s obviously a huge difference between state-sponsored or -sanctioned doping, and what has gone on, and for sure absolutely is going on, here. (If you think there are zero U.S. athletes engaged in the use of performance-enhancing substances, please send me a bank draft for a bridge in Brooklyn I would be delighted to sell you.) 2. The First Amendment says you can say almost anything you want. Have at it. 3. The risk, of course, is that such a letter — in the international sphere — appears completely, thoroughly sanctimonious. Lance Armstrong? Marion Jones? BALCO? Major League Baseball and the steroid era (probably the primary reason baseball is not back in the Olympic Games)? 4. With Los Angeles bidding for 2024, with every IOC member’s vote at issue, does it ever work for Americans to assume a position of such seeming moral superiority?

-- Premise: doping in Russia is bad and something has to be done. Not just in Russia. Everywhere. Reaction: 1. Obviously. 2. Seriously. 3. Now -- who's going to pay to put together a worldwide system that can really be way more effective? Let's start with $25-30 million, enough to more or less double the World Anti-Doping Agency's annual budget to the ballpark of $50-55 million. Where's that coming from? If you are an international sports federation, you don't have that kind of scratch. 4. Not even combined, the federations don't have it. 5. Governments? In virtually every country but the United States, funding for sport is a federal government function. 6. The IOC?

-- LA 2024 drops plans for an Olympic village near downtown, says if it’s picked that UCLA dorms would serve as athlete housing and USC would play host to a media village. Reaction: 1. This saves LA 2024 lots of money and removes an element of uncertainty from the bid file. 2. The biggest knock on LA is that it has played host twice to the Summer Games, in 1932 and 1984. In 1984, athletes stayed in the dorms at UCLA and USC. 3. Sure, the dorms at UCLA are better than you would find at universities in Europe. 4. The trick is convincing the European-dominated International Olympic Committee that 2024 is not a been-there, done-that. Going back to UCLA elevates that risk and is, frankly, going to require a major sales job. 5. The housing at USC is going to be really nice. Like, really excellent. The university is in the midst of a huge construction project that promises a thorough gentrification in its near-downtown neighborhood. But no one cares about the media. Clarification: none of the IOC members do, at least enough to swing a vote one way or the other.

UCLA dorm life // photo LA24

-- LA 2024 gets a $2 billion stadium for the NFL Rams (and maybe another team). For free. Also, pretty much all major venues, and all hotels, are in place. And there’s a multibillion dollar-transit plan in the works that’s going to happen regardless of the Olympics. Reaction: 1. Is any city anywhere better-suited for the Summer Games? 2. Is the IOC ready — finally? — to embrace the Americans again? 3. If IOC president Thomas Bach really wants Agenda 2020 to be relevant, here is a world city that, as he has put it, not only talks the talk but walks the walk. 4. This is the most-important host city election in the modern era, determining the course of future bids. If the IOC keeps rewarding stupidity and waste, you have to ask, seriously, about its direction.

The Rams might -- stress, might -- play temporarily at the Coliseum. This is an artist's rendering of the new Inglewood facility // HKS

-- A Danish survey, measuring and comparing national representation from 2013 to 2015 in international sport, declares the United States is far and away the most influential nation in the world. Reaction: 1. Is this a cosmic joke? 2. No U.S. Olympic bids for 2020 or 2022. Why? 3. Chicago 2016. 4. New York 2012. 5. That soccer World Cup bid for 2022? How'd that work out? 6. The United States is seriously lacking in top-level representation. Everyone in the Olympic world knows this. You've got the newly elected head of the International Tennis Federation, and one member of the IOC executive board -- and a handful of others who are, say, technical directors or even a secretary general. Because of the way IOC rules work, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors, Larry Probst, is hugely unlikely to himself ever be on the IOC board. 7. The survey methodology: "The data behind the index consists of a total of 1673 positions across 120 international federations. Each position is weighed between 1 and 10 based on the level of sports political power. As an example, the president of the IOC scores 10, whereas a board member in a non-Olympic European federation receives the minimum score of 1." 8. There's an enormous difference between quantity of influence, which this survey purports to measure, and quality. To reiterate, see No. 3 and 4, which is why the USOC, with Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun in particular, has spent the past six years rebuilding relationships internationally, including the resolution of a revenue-sharing deal with the IOC that had made it all but impossible for the U.S. to consider a bid.

-- Voters in Iowa due to caucus in the next few days, followed by balloting in New Hampshire, and we're off to the races. Reaction: 1. If you want the Olympic Games back in the United States in 2024, you want Hillary Clinton to win in November. 2. Say what? 3. Yep. 4. You really think that Donald Trump, who advocates walls and bans, is remotely on the same page as the Olympic spirit? 5. Hillary Clinton, when she was senator from New York, went to Singapore in 2005 to lobby for New York City’s 2012 bid. In 1996, President and Mrs. Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Atlanta Games, and Bill Clinton formally opened those Olympics. In 1994, Hillary Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. 6. Bill and Hillary Clinton have a longstanding relationship with LA 2024 bid chairman Casey Wasserman.

From February 1994: First Lady Hillary Clinton, right, and daughter Chelsea at the Lillehammer Games' opening ceremony // Getty Images

-- Five days in Cuba for the first Olympic sports event there since President Obama’s announcement of a new normal between the U.S. and the island nation. Reaction: 1. You can see how Havana was once lovely. 2. Now it’s just mostly crumbling. Dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of concrete buildings are literally falling apart in the salt air. 3. You want potholes? You have maybe never seen roads so torn-up. It’s a wonder all those classic cars don’t fall into some of these potholes, which resemble nothing so much as sinkholes, never to plow forward again. 4. Big cars with fins are awesome. No seat belts — not so much. 5. My room at the Hotel Nacional was once the site of a mafia meeting. A plaque on the wall said so. 6. Frank Sinatra once stayed in the room next door. Another plaque. 7. If you get the chance, go to Havana now, before the flood of Americans — and all the corporate investment dollars — show up. It’s incredible in 2016 to go someplace and find no McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Walmart. Not saying those brands are the zenith of American culture. But, you know, they're almost everywhere. Not Cuba. 8. It rained cats and dogs one night and seawater washed up nearly five blocks inland. Cuba is rich with potential but the infrastructure needs — the basics — are almost staggering: water, sewage, electricity, telephone, internet, roads, bridges and more. 9. U.S. mobile phones work pretty much everywhere in the world now. Not Cuba.

Not-uncommon Havana street scene

George Washington slept here? No, Frank Sinatra

Cuba's Alberto Juantorena // Getty Images

-- Alberto Juantorena, the track and field legend (gold medals, Montreal 1976, 400 and 800 meters), has for years now been a senior figure in Cuban sport. As of last August, he is also one of four vice presidents of track's international governing body, the IAAF, now headed by Sebastian Coe. (Historical footnote: it was Coe who, in 1979, broke Juantorena's world record in the 800, lowering it from 1:43.44 to 1:42.33. David Rudisha of Kenya now owns the record, 1:40.91, set at the London 2012 Games.) Two events in the next few weeks require Juantorena to pass through U.S. customs, one a meeting in Puerto Rico of what's called NACAC, an area track and field group, the other the indoor world championships in mid-March in Portland, Oregon. Juantorena has been granted one (1) visa by the U.S. authorities. That's good for one entry, not two. Reaction: 1. Someone in the U.S. government has to fix this. 2. And, like, immediately. 3. Juantorena or Antonio Castro, one of Fidel's sons, an activist in seeking the return of baseball to the Games, figure to be in the mix when the IOC gets around to naming a new member from Cuba. 4. Nothing will destroy the LA 2024 bid faster than word that it is difficult -- still, 14-plus years after 9/11 -- to get into the United States.

Nick Symmonds at last June's US championships in Eugene, Oregon // Getty Images

-- Run Gum, owned in part by U.S. 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds, files suit against the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Track & Field, alleging an antitrust claim in connection with logo and uniform advertising rules at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Reaction: 1. Run Gum is a great product. The new cinnamon flavor is excellent. Recommendation: the gum is also great for people with migraines for whom caffeine is, as doctors like to say, medically indicated. Take it from someone who knows. 2. Why, though, the headache of a lawsuit? 3. The antitrust issues are nominally interesting but in the sphere of the Olympics the IOC's rules and, as well, the 1978 Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act almost always control. 4. So why a lawsuit? You file lawsuits when a) you profoundly disagree about something, b) you negotiate but can't reach agreement and/or or c) maybe you're just looking for publicity. 5. USATF, under the direction of chief executive Max Siegel, has made tremendous efforts in recent months to not only reduce friction at all levels but to actively promote collegiality. The annual meeting in December was all but a love-fest. Last September, USATF and its athletes advisory council agreed on a revenue distribution plan that will deliver $9 million in cash to athletes over the coming five years. 6. It's all good to make a living at track and field. Every athlete should be able to do so. That's not the issue. 7. Again: it's why a lawsuit and what's the motive? Symmonds, asked about that Thursday, said with a laugh,"I think Nick Symmonds going on a date with Paris Hilton -- that's a publicity play," adding, "Engaging in litigation -- engaging in litigation with the people putting on the freaking Olympic Trials that I have to compete at -- all that pressure on my shoulders, why would I want to do that, unless I care about the sport?" 8. No question Symmonds cares about the sport. Even so, whatever disagreement you might have, you couldn't talk it out? It's January. The Trials run July 1-10. That's more or less six months away. 9. Symmonds, asked whether there had been an in-person meeting or extensive negotiation on the issue before the filing of the case, said, no. He said he had sought via email only to "engage in dialogue" with Siegel and with USOC marketing guy Chester Wheeler but that was "months ago." He asserted, "The goal is to level the playing field. Whether that's done through [pre-trial] resolution or ultimately to trial, I’m not sure. I just know it seems so unfair that only apparel manufacturers, only registered apparel manufacturers, are allowed to bid on that space. It just seems so grossly unfair. We are just trying to level the playing field." At the same time, he said, referring to litigation, "This option allows me to stay in Seattle and focus on training and and focus on making my third Olympic team, and allows lawyers to have that conversation for me. That's a conversation I don't have the time or energy or resources to have. I know my limitations. I'm not equipped to have that conversation." 9. It's intriguing that the case includes the same lawyers that pursued the O'Bannon antitrust matter against the NCAA. Because you're going for scorched-earth or because you're trying to reach a just result? 10. Symmonds likes to say that he is all for advancing athlete interests. Taking him at face value, because he assuredly has great passion about a great many things, it's also the case that lawsuits cost money. This particular lawsuit asks for triple damages and attorney's fees. As for damages -- who would that benefit? As for attorney's fees -- same question. In the meantime, the dollars it's going to take to defend this case -- whose pocket, ultimately, is that money going to come out of? Big-time lawyers don't come cheap. Try $600 an hour, and up. If you were on the USATF athletes' board, wouldn't you want to ask about that element -- in the guise of finding out who, ultimately, is being served?

-- Kuwait appeals court acquits Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of charges, overturning six-month jail sentence. The sheikh is a major powerbroker in Olympic and FIFA circles. Reaction: 1. What's going on in Kuwait, with various twists and turns, can all be tied to friction between Sheikh Ahmad and the Kuwaiti sports minister, Sheikh Salman al-Sabah. Sheikh Salman ran in 2014 for the presidency of the international shooting federation. He lost. 2. Never bet against Sheikh Ahmad.

Sebastian Coe is the answer, not the problem

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If you have seen Fight Club, the 1999 movie with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton (New York Times: “surely the defining cult movie of our time”), or, better yet, read the 1996 Chuck Palahniuk novel that inspired it, you know the elemental first rule of Fight Club: you do not talk about Fight Club.

This is the key to understanding what happened at track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, in regards to doping in Russia (mostly) and cover-ups, and as a spur going forward, because institutional, governance and cultural changes must be enacted to ensure that what happened under the watch of the former IAAF president, Lamine Diack, can never happen again.

It’s also fundamental in understanding why Sebastian Coe, elected IAAF president last August, is the right man for the reform job.

He’s not going to resign. Nor should he.

MONACO - NOVEMBER 26: Lord Sebastian Coe, President of the IAAF answers questions from the media during a press conference following the IAAF Council Meeting at the Fairmont Monte Carlo Hotel on November 26, 2015 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

To be clear:

We live in a 24/7 world where, increasingly, everything seemingly must be susceptible to immediate resolution.

Regrettably, far too often this jump-starts a rush to judgment.

A powerful driver in this cable-TV, talking-head world, the noise amplified by social media, is protest and moral arousal, as the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote in his column Wednesday.

Quoting the leadership expert Dov Seidman, Friedman writes that when moral arousal manifests as moral outrage, “it can either inspire or repress a serious conversation or the truth.”

More from Seidman: “If moral outrage, as justified as it may be, is followed immediately by demands for firings or resignations, it can result in a vicious cycle of moral outrage being met with equal outrage, as opposed to a virtuous cycle of dialogue and the hard work of forging real understanding and enduring agreements.”

Coe is the only person in track and field capable of leading, driving and instituting the change that must now be effected.

Any suggestion that the sport ought to be led instead by an outsider is misplaced, and seriously.

Sport entities carry their own distinct cultures, and failure to appreciate, to understand and to be able to move within those cultures is a recipe for disaster.

Evidence: the U.S. Olympic Committee’s turn seven years ago to outsider Stephanie Streeter as chief executive. That ended within months.

To the point at hand: Coe is not accused of any misconduct or wrongdoing. He was legitimately elected. It’s time to get to the “hard work of forging real understanding and enduring agreements.”

In a report made public Thursday, a World Anti-Doping Agency independent commission headed by the Canadian lawyer Dick Pound alleged that Lamine Diack orchestrated a conspiracy to cover-up certain doping results, mostly in Russia.

The conspiracy revolved, in the words of the report, around a “close inner circle.” That is, just a few people: Diack; two of his sons, Papa Massata Diack and Khalil, also known as Ibrahima; and Diack’s personal lawyer, Habib Cissé.

With the “consultants and lawyer in place,” according to the report, Lamine Diack created an “informal illegitimate governance structure outside the formal governance structure.”

Former IAAF president Lamine Diack at last summer's world championships in Beijing // Getty Images

Papa Massata Diack pictured last February in Senegal // Getty Images

Valentin Balakhnichev at last summer's IAAF meetings in Beijing // Getty Images

Their “familiar or close personal ties to [the IAAF president] facilitated the emergence of this powerful rogue group outside the IAAF governance structure, yet operated under the aegis of the IAAF.”

At some level, according to the report, the conspiracy also metastasized to include the Russian treasurer of the IAAF, Valentin Balakhnichev; a Russian national-team coach, Alexi Melnikov; and the director of the IAAF’s medical and anti-doping department, Dr. Gabriel Dollé.

Last week, per the IAAF ethics commission, Papa Diack, Balakhnichev and Melnikov got life bans from the sport, Dollé a five-year suspension.

Lamine Diack and Cissé are now facing criminal inquiry in France.

Balakhhnichev gets to deal with the fallout in Russia. Good luck with that, and enjoy any and all meetings with Mr. Putin, depicted in the report as someone with whom Lamine Diack said he had “struck up a friendship.”

The report is notable for who it names and, critically, who it does not.

Again, Diack and sons; Cissé; Dollé; Balakhnichev; Melnikov.

For good measure, there is also reference to “sports marketing consultant” Ian Tan Tong Han, a business associate (ahem) and close friend of Papa Diack’s — Tan’s baby, born two years ago, is named “Massata” — who “appears to be part of the illicit informal governance system of the IAAF.”

That’s it.

The report notes, meanwhile, that other senior IAAF staff members were quite properly “antagonistic” in regards to the case management of Russian athletes and, from the point of view of the conspiracy, “needed to be bribed to stay quiet.”

These included the director of the office of the president, Cheikh Thiaré; Nick Davies, the deputy secretary general; Dollé; and Dr. Pierre Yves Garnier, at the time in charge of what in anti-doping circles is known as the “athlete biological passport,” a work-up of blood values over time.

From the report: Lamine Diack apparently confirmed in interviews with French authorities that Papa Diack “gave money to one or the other to keep them quiet and so they are not opposed.”

Recent media reports have Thiaré, Davies and Garnier refuting those claims, the report says, adding that Dollé “regrets having been involved.”

Draw your own conclusions about who the “one or the other” might be.

Davies, meanwhile, the longtime IAAF spokesman, is now apparently in line to be made the fall guy for a July, 2013, email to Papa Diack, the report calling the email “inexplicable.” This is a difficult situation for all of us who have known, and worked with, Davies. He cares passionately about track and field, and has sought only to do what — from his perspective — has been the right thing.

At any rate, in the report’s version of the money shot, it declares that “corruption was embedded in the organization,” meaning the IAAF, adding, “It cannot be ignored or dismissed as attributable to the odd renegade acting on his own. The IAAF allowed the conduct to occur and must accept its responsibility. Continued denial will simply make it more difficult to make genuine progress.”

This begs the obvious question:

What per se is — or, more properly, was — the IAAF?

This inquiry is neither didactic nor pedantic.

The report, unanimously approved by all three independent commission members — former WADA boss Pound, Canadian law professor and anti-doping expert Richard McLaren and Günter Younger, the senior German law enforcement official and cyber-crime authority — also says, “The fact of the matter is that individuals at the very top of the IAAF were implicated in conduct that reflects on the organization itself (as well as on the particular individuals involved).”

In practical terms, for the 16 years he was president, Diack was the IAAF. He ran it like a fiefdom. This he learned from his predecessor, Italy’s Primo Nebiolo, president for 18 years before that.

The report asserts that the IAAF’s 27-member council “could not have been unaware of the extent of doping in [track and field] and the non-enforcement of applicable anti-doping rules.” It also says the council “could not have been unaware of the level of nepotism that operated within the IAAF.”

Fascinating.

In virtually every other instance, the report goes into incredible, sometimes granular detail, even providing an appendix at the end, to document  “the non-enforcement of applicable anti-doping rules.” Names, places, dates and more.

But in making such a blanket declaration — nothing.

If the council “could not have been unaware” of doping, when were any or all of them made so aware? Where? Who, in particular? By what means?

For this, nothing — no answer. Just this sweeping assertion.

Was the council aware Papa Diack was around? Surely.

But did those on the council, including Coe, an IAAF vice president from 2007, know or appreciate there was corruption afoot?

The report: “It is increasingly clear that far more IAAF staff knew about the problems than has currently been acknowledged. It is not credible that elected officials were unaware of the situation affecting (for purposes of the IC mandate) athletics in Russia. If, therefore, the circle of knowledge was so extensive, why was nothing done?”

Here the report is disingenuous, or at best there is a powerful disconnect.

It is for sure credible that elected officials were unaware.

Why?

Because of the first rule of Fight Club.

Which also happens to be the first rule of any conspiracy.

This is self-evident: the more people who know about something illicit, the more risk that someone who shouldn’t know is going to find out, and do something to disrupt the conspiracy.

Look, let’s have some common sense.

Did Lamine Diack call over Coe — or for that matter, the senior vice president from 2011-15, American Bob Hersh, or any of the others on the council, including Sergei Bubka, an IAAF mainstay, runner-up to Coe in last year's presidential election — and whisper, hey, guess what I’m doing that I really shouldn’t?

There is zero evidence in the report of any such thing.

So, moving forward, as Pound said at a news conference Thursday in Munich in releasing the report, it is one thing to recommend that the IAAF should, for public relations and other purposes, come clean:

Dick Pound, head of the three-member WADA-appointed independent commission // Getty Images

“Of course, there was a cover-up and delay, and all sorts of things. Acknowledge this. If you can’t acknowledge it, you can’t get past it.”

He also said, quite rightly, “This started with the president. The president was elected four times by the congress. It then went to the treasurer, elected by the congress. It then goes to the personal advisor of the president, inserted into the management structure. It goes to the director of the medical and anti-doping [department]. It goes to nepotistic appointments. I’m sorry. That affects the reputation of the IAAF. You can deny that all you wish but I think you’ve got to take that on board and come out the other side.”

At the same time, it is quite another to say that Coe should, by association, be guilty as well. It’s not enough — not nearly — that he was part of the structure of the organization, and critically at a time when most of his focus was devoted to organizing the London 2012 Games.

That’s not the way things work. Nor should they.

Which Pound also made plain.

In response to a news conference question about whether Coe had lied in regard to a cover-up, Pound said, “I think you’ve got to understand the concentration of power in and around the president of any international federation.” Too, to understand “the relative infrequency with which something like the IAAF council would meet and the level of information that would be conveyed from those at the top to the council, particularly if it happened to deal with problems.

“If you’re asking to me to give an opinion or not as to whether he lied or not, I would say he did not lie.”

[Watch Pound's comments here.]

Pound also said he he believes Coe had “not the faintest idea of the extent” of Diack’s alleged corruption when he took over last August.

Pound said, too, “I think it’s a fabulous opportunity for the IAAF to seize this opportunity and under strong leadership to move forward. There’s an enormous amount of repetitional recovery that has to occur here and I can’t … think of anyone better than Lord Coe to lead that.”

Amen.

In the world of possibilities, it must be considered that there is evidence tying Coe to something.

But we don’t live in a world of fiction, or what-if’s. We go by what we can document, and prove. Anything else is just so much more outrage. It’s time now for dialogue and enduring change.

As WADA president Craig Reedie, in a release issued after the news conference, said, “It is now important that the IAAF, under the leadership of Sebastian Coe, adopts the recommendations of the report in full.”

Coe told the BBC Thursday in Munich that the IAAF would “redouble our efforts, to be clear to people we are not in denial.”

He added, “My responsibility is to absorb the lessons of the past and to shape the future. The changes I am making will do that. The road back to trust is going to be a long one.”

Nine days ago, IAAF staff put out a news release in which Coe set forth a 10-point “road map” aimed at rebuilding trust, in both the federation and in track and field competition itself, the idea being that you have to be able to have confidence in the federation itself and, more important, believe what you see on the track or in the field events.

The release drew comparatively little attention. Now is the time for it to take center stage, and the dialogue over how to rebuild that trust and confidence begin in earnest.

“Be under no illusion about how seriously I take these issues,” Coe said in the release. “I am president of an international federation which is under serious investigation and I represent a sport under intense scrutiny. My vision is to have a sport that attracts more young people. The average age of those watching track and field is 55 years old. That is not sustainable.

“The key to making that vision a reality is creating a sport that people once more trust in. Athletics,” meaning track and field, “ must be a sport that athletes, fans, sponsors, media and parents alike know is safe to compete in on a level playing field and one in which clean effort is rewarded and celebrated.”

A historic "road map" for Russia?

Track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, did what it had to do Friday in provisionally suspending Russia after shocking revelations of systemic, perhaps state-sponsored, doping.

The IAAF action followed by a few hours a step taken by a World Anti-Doping Agency panel. It, too, did what it had to do. Among other things, it found Russia non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code.

What it all amounts to is this, the real story: a historic opportunity is now upon us, all of us, that may not come again quite some time, to get Russia — if you will — to behave, and stay behaving.

And not just in track and field. Across all sports.

Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this week in Sochi with sports minister Vitaly Mutko // Getty Images

To reiterate an important point: Russia is not inherently any better or worse than anywhere else. But when evidence emerges of a doping scheme that may well have been state-sanctioned, evoking memories of the notorious East German system in the 1970s, that’s a call to significant action. That was the take-away, loud and clear, in a report made public Monday by a WADA-appointed independent commission.

The twin messages that emerged amid Friday’s action were also manifest:

— One, there is recognition, admission, acknowledgement — use whatever term you want — from the Russians. None of this happens — hello, Mr. President Putin — without the Russians recognizing that, for real, they are up against it.

On Wednesday, Putin, ordering an investigation into the WADA-appointed report findings made public Monday, had said there ought to be “professional cooperation” with international anti-doping bodies.

His coded language makes plain: the Russians realize they have to play ball.

Again, after everything set out in Monday’s report, there is no other option, particularly with the 2018 FIFA World Cup yet to come. You’re naive if you don’t think emissaries further emphasized — at senior levels within the Russian sports and government infrastructure — that this was, indeed, the message.

Message received, the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, telling the R-Sport news agency on Friday, "We're prepared for broad cooperation." He also said he has asked WADA president Craig Reedie to provide a "road map" Russia could follow.

All the other stuff Mutko is saying? Allegations that the IAAF concealed more than 150 doping cases, mostly from countries other than Russia? Maybe. The British anti-doping system held “zero value” and was “even worse” than Russia’s? Come on.

Look, within international politics at its keenest, which is indisputably what this is, face-saving can be an important skill.

— Two, and this is the challenge in front of WADA and the IAAF: how to push the Russians — hopefully, themselves — into putting new systems in place that can survive both the short and long term?

Of course there is going to be push-back.

Here, for instance, was Yelena Isinbayeva, the Russian pole-vault queen, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist:

“To ban innocent … athletes from competing in international events and [the] Olympic Games in Rio is not fair,” she wrote in a letter published on the Russian track federation website hours before the IAAF met via teleconference.

With all due respect, Isinbayeva’s logic proves too simple.

If one runner in a relay tests — and proves — dirty, everyone’s medals get taken away. The entire team has to deal with the sanction.

Same here, just on a systemic level.

Because this is, as the WADA panel’s report made plain, a systemic problem.

The clean athletes in Russia — a note on behalf of skeptics: assuming, indeed, there are any — ought now to be just as eager for change in the Russian track and field system as everyone anywhere else.

Otherwise, the clean Russians don’t get to take part in the world indoors, in March in Portland, Oregon, and in the Rio 2016 Olympics in August.

That ought to make for internal leverage.

The external leverage came Friday from the IAAF, which voted, 22-1, to provisionally suspend the Russian track and field federation.

It’s not clear who the sole holdout is. Talk about being on the wrong side of historic change.

An intriguing issue before Friday’s IAAF teleconference was whether the Russians would declare themselves unfit or, for a variety of political reasons, let the IAAF do it — which ended up being the course.

Make no mistake: the clear intent of the IAAF and WADA actions Friday, all around, is to give the Russians every opportunity to get things fixed, if not by Portland, then for sure by Rio.

As Mutko told Associated Press, “We may miss one or two competitions. But for athletes to miss the Olympics and world championships would be real stupidity.”

The full WADA board will meet Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, presumably to ratify what has already been done and then — prediction — deliver a study group on the notion, suddenly pushed by the International Olympic Committee, of an independent body that would be responsible not just for drug testing but sanctioning, too.

Observations: the last thing world sports needs is a new layer of structure. Give WADA significantly more means and commit to its authority. If you want someone independent to run the doping scene, that’s sensible. But look to WADA, already with 16 years experience.

WADA, for the record, already deserves significant congratulations.

It had the cajones to set up an independent commission in the first place; it fully authorized commission head Dick Pound and his two associates, Canadian law professor Richard MacLaren and German law enforcement official Guenter Younger, who along with staff proved relentless; and it had the will Friday to act decisively in finding Russia non-compliant.

You know who else deserves kudos?

Seb Coe, elected in August the IAAF president.

No, really.

Coe has taken withering media heat this week, with many, particularly in the British press, suggesting he was — because he served for eight years as an IAAF vice president — part of the problem and thus neither can nor should be part of the solution.

There has been, and repeatedly, the suggestion that because Coe was vice president he must have known what the former IAAF president, Lamine Diack, who stepped down in August after 16 years, was up to. French investigators allege that Diack accepted more than $1 million in bribes to allow at least six Russian athletes to compete, including at the 2012 London Olympics.

Also under investigation are Diack’s legal adviser, Habib Cissé, and the former head of the IAAF anti-doping department, Gabriel Dollé.

The figure at the center of all this is probably one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack. Interesting how he has known in recent days to avoid France.

Ask yourself: would Coe really have been in the loop?

During 2011 and 2012, what was Coe’s focus? Yes, he was an IAAF vice president. At the same time, this is what he was really doing: he was running the London Olympics.

Further, there were — and are — four IAAF vice presidents.

What we know from French authorities is not complete. Nonetheless, the suggestion is that Diack was part of a conspiracy. The only way a conspiracy works is for those involved to keep it, you know, quiet. Do you think Diack called the four 2011-15 IAAF vice presidents — Coe, Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, Qatar’s Dahlan al-Hamad and the American Bob Hersh — and said, hey, guess what I’m up to, fellas?

Further: French authorities interviewed Coe in recent days. Have they since said anything about Coe being a target of any sort? No.

A side note for those who intently follow USA Track & Field: Hersh was the senior IAAF vice president from 2011 until elections this past August. The USATF board opted last December not to re-nominate him for an IAAF role but to put in his place Stephanie Hightower — even though USATF membership, which typically knows next to nothing about international track, had voted overwhelmingly for Hersh.

Guess that USATF board decision is looking pretty good right about now.

At any rate, a 22-1 vote makes clear the IAAF council is in Coe’s corner.

In an IAAF statement, Frank Fredericks of Namibia, the former sprint star who is now chair of the IAAF athletes’ commission, said the council was “100 percent in support of President Coe and believe that he is the leader that our sport needs to instigate the necessary actions swiftly and strongly.”

A vote of 22-1, meantime, also spotlights a fact of life in international sport that came up time and again at a conference last week in New York sponsored by the Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security:

International sport is big business. Far too often, the governance structures in international sport have not caught up to that reality.

The focus for most now is on Russia, and whether the Russian track and field team will get to Rio. But if you’re paying attention:

The IAAF council, for example, currently stands at a full 27. That’s too many. It should be more like 15. That’s the number on, among others, the International Olympic Committee executive board, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s board of directors and the USATF board.

Further, if the IAAF was too often run by Diack and, before him, Italy’s Primo Nebiolo as expressions of autocratic power in word and action, now is the time for the IAAF to put in place a chief executive officer, and empower him or her to run the thing day to day.

Coe for sure seems to be paying attention, another reason he deserves to be cut some slack. In our 24/7 world, everyone seemingly wants answers now. But process and governance take time.

The IAAF statement announcing the 22-1 vote also included a note about what was called Coe’s “reform program,” Coe’s No. 2 at the London 2012 organizing committee, Paul Deighton, appointed to oversee a far-reaching review, to be carried out by Deloitte.

The plan is to feature, among other facets, a “forensic” accounting and, as well, the creation of an “integrity unit.” The unit, to be made up of a board and review panels, would oversee issues relating to anti-doping and more.

Coe, in the IAAF statement:

“Today we have been dealing with the failure of ARAF [the Russian track federation] and made the decision to provisionally suspend them, the toughest sanction we can apply at this time. But we discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world. 

"This has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated. To this end, the IAAF, WADA, the member federations and athletes need to look closely at ourselves, our cultures and our processes to identify where failures exist and be tough in our determination to fix them and rebuild trust in our sport. There can be no more important focus for our sport.”

Who knew what, when? And what is to be done?

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The World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report that shines a long-overdue spotlight on Russian doping in track and field begs a question in Russian history. As Lenin himself wrote in the famous pamphlet published in 1902: what is to be done? At the same time, and though the report, released Monday, has little to nothing to do with the United States, a bit of political history from the American archives is worth noting, too. From the Watergate years: who knew what, and when?

Make no mistake.

On the surface, this report is about track and field.

Not really.

This is about the intersection of sport and politics, indeed domestic and geopolitics at its highest, most complex, indeed most nuanced levels. Its roots are in the way countries can, and do, lean on sports to advance nationalistic agendas of all sorts.

The WADA-appointed three-member Independent Commission upon the release of the report Monday in Geneva: Canadian lawyer and professor Richard McLaren, former WADA president Richard Pound and German law enforcement official Guenter Younger // photo Getty Images

The report is lengthy, more than 300 pages.

Much like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision” in the Lance Armstrong matter, made public in 2012, and for the same reason, it reads like a John le Carré spy novel.

That reason: it’s designed not just for insiders but for everyone.

The report is rich with Olympics 101, spelling out the acronym- and influence-rich scene, explaining who is who and what is what — for instance, on page 88, the helpful note that “stacking” means mixing oral steroids with injectable drugs.

In sum, this is what the report says:

— Corrupt state-funded agencies helped Russian athletes to dope and evade detection. These include the Russian athletics federation, which goes by the initials ARAF; the WADA-accredited testing laboratory in Moscow; and RUSADA, the Russian anti-doping agency.

— The successor to the KGB secret service, the FSB intelligence agency, oversaw the lab and embedded spies at the 2014 Sochi Games, according to witnesses.

— The Russian sports ministry exerted influence on the Moscow lab, issuing orders for athletes’ samples to be manipulated. There was a second, secret lab in Moscow; there, samples — blood and urine — would be pre-screened to identify clear ones for the WADA process.

— Finally, athletes would also get false identities to travel abroad to evade possible testing.

The first question in wondering what is to be done is to ask: if the scale of Russian doping was this monumental, evoking comparisons to the notorious East German regime in the 1970s, how did it take until now to get uncovered?

Answer:

It’s not as if certain people didn’t at the least have strong suspicions. They just couldn’t prove anything.

You don’t just stroll into Russia and go, hey, I have some questions for you — buy you a coffee and we’ll chat?

The report makes manifestly plain the lengths to which athletes, coaches, trainers and more sought to evade the providing of answers.

Further, the international sports movement moves in English. Russia does not.

Beyond that, to secure proof you need either cooperation or, to use a word, leverage. That leverage usually means action from the public authorities, police and prosecutors, who can demand answers at the risk of jail time or financial ruin.

This is what’s happening in France, where Interpol, the international police agency, is based, and where Part II of all of this is due to drop later this year. Last week, the French authorities said they had put under criminal investigation Lamine Diack of Senegal, the former president of track’s international governing body, the IAAF, on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. At issue are allegations Diack accepted more than $1 million in bribes to allow at least six Russian athletes to compete, including at the London 2012 Olympics.

Also under investigation are Diack’s legal adviser, Habib Cisse, and the former head of the IAAF anti-doping department, Gabriel Dollé.

Sports agencies do not wield subpoena power. And those who seek to enforce the rules of fair play have not always found easy sledding.

WADA is now 16 years old. As Monday’s report notes, “WADA continues to face a recalcitrant attitude on the part of many stakeholders that it is merely a service provider and not a regulator.”

The report actually underscores a fundamental flaw in the way, big picture, international sports work. There typically is no check-and-balance within the system.

The only reliable check is good journalism, and kudos here to Hajo Seppelt and the team from the German broadcaster ARD for the documentary last year that led to the WADA-appointed commission, and this report.

Reality: far too often, Olympic and international sports officials treat journalists with that pair of favorites, skepticism and derision. This week’s international federations forum at the IOC base in Lausanne, Switzerland — closed to the press.

Why?

Maybe because far too many are afraid of — the truth? And having it reported?

Earlier this year, Marius Vizer, the president of the International Judo Federation and at the time of SportAccord, said at the SportAccord convention, referring to Diack, “I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for sport, I mean sacrifice in a way of dedication, and in my eyes [Diack is] a person who sacrifices sport for his family."

Quickly, many others in the so-called Olympic family turned on Vizer. He lost the SportAccord job.

Time has now seemingly proven him right. So why were so many in senior positions so uneasy at hearing what Vizer had to say? Why was he so ostracized?

And what else -- beyond FIFA -- might be out there?

At any rate, and moving on to the rocks-and-glass houses department for those who think doping in sports is a Russia-only problem:

Cheating is never going to go away. There will always be doping. That's human nature.

From the WADA-appointed report: “… in  its considered view, Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping in sport."

Just consider what the United States has been through in recent years: Marion Jones and BALCO, MLB’s steroid problem, Armstrong.

Here, though, is the key difference:

There is no federal sports ministry in the United States.

Dick Pound, the longtime Canadian IOC member and former WADA boss who headed the commission that produced Monday’s report, called what happened with regard to Russian track and field “state-supported.”

He said, “I don’t think there's any other possible conclusion. It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system."

The report: “While written evidence of governmental involvement has not been produced, it would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities.”

This is where things get really interesting.

In the Olympic sphere, Russia is arguably the most important country in the world.

The short list why:

The $51 billion that went toward the 2014 Sochi Games. Hosting of the 2013 world track and field championships in Moscow, and the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan. The 2018 World Cup. The 2015 SportAccord convention, back in Sochi. And more.

Dmitry Medvedev, right, now the Russian prime minister, and sports minister Vitaly Mutko at the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan // Getty Images

Without question, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is one of the top five most influential personalities in world sport.

That short list:

Thomas Bach, the IOC president; Putin; the FIFA president, whoever that might be; Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and a member of the FIFA executive committee; and Sebastian Coe, the recently elected head of the IAAF.

Why Putin?

When Bach was elected IOC president, in September 2013, it’s wise to remember, the very first phone call he took was from Putin.

The chairman of the 2022 IOC Winter Games evaluation commission? Alexander Zhukov, the head of the Russian Olympic committee.

There can be zero question that, as in the Cold War days, Putin is using sport — and its prestige — to advance his reputation and his nation’s standing, both domestically and geopolitically.

Either that, or you think that hosting the Winter Games, the swim and track championships and the World Cup are all just because Russia and Putin are just good sports.

So, mindful that the FSB was in on the deal, and that control in state-directed Russia can be everything, how far up the chain did the activities detailed in Monday’s report go?

Is it believable that Vitaly Mutko, the sports minister, really didn’t know?

Mutko reports to Putin. Really, neither knew?

Referring to Mutko, Pound said Monday he believes it was “not possible for him to be unaware of it.” And if he was aware, “he was complicit in it.”

Consider:

After the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Russian athletes won only three gold medals, the-then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, made a point of declaring that a raft of sports ministry officials ought to hand in their resignations, or be fired. The resignations ensued.

Medvedev, who segued back to prime minister after Putin took over the presidency again in 2012, also observed that Russia "has lost the old Soviet school ... and we haven't created our own school -- despite the fact that the amount of money that is invested in sport is unprecedentedly high."

Mutko, who has been an ally of Putin’s for years, survived.

The Russians then won the medals count in Sochi, with 33, and the most golds, 13.

A reasonable question: how did that happen?

Pound on Monday: “I don’t think we can be confident there was no manipulation” of doping tests at the 2014 Winter Games.

Monday’s report says the 2012 London Games were “in a sense, sabotaged” because athletes ran who shouldn’t have, because they were dirty. The report targets five Russian runners for lifetime bans. Among them: the London 2012 800 gold and bronze winners, Mariya Savinova-Farnosova and Ekaterina Poistogova.

They got to compete, the report said, because of the “collapse of the anti-doping system,” blaming RUSADA, ARAF and, lastly, the IAAF.

The report recommends that Russia be suspended until there is compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, went hard Monday, saying in a statement that the “evidence released today demonstrates a shocking level of corruption,” adding, “If Russia has created an organized scheme of state-supported doping, then they have no business being allowed to compete on the world stage.”

Late in the day, Mutko's sports ministry put out a statement that said, "We are not surprised by most of the points in the report." It declared "we have undertaken measures to remedy the situation, including the appointment of a new ARAF president and head coach. It then turned on the IAAF, saying the ministry "is waiting for such measures from IAAF, where the new president also has zero-tolerance for doping."

Coe took over for Diack in August. On Monday, the IAAF issued a statement saying it would consider appropriate sanctions; such measures could mean no Russian track and field athletes at next year’s Rio Olympics; the Russians have until the end of the week to respond.

“The allegations are alarming,” Coe said. “These are dark days.”

Perhaps, then, that is what is to be done: no Russians in track and field in Rio.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, listens in as Russian pole vault champion and Sochi 2014 Olympic village mayor Yelena Isinbayeva, center, whispers during a visit to the Olympic village at the 2014 Sochi Games // Getty Images

Consider: Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole-vault diva and two-time (2004, 2008) gold medalist, the IOC Youth Olympic Games ambassador and Sochi Games Olympic Village mayor herself, would not get one more chance for gold.

Or perhaps Mr. Putin might not like that idea of no Russians in Rio, might not like at all the notion that Isinbayeva, a favorite, might not get the chance for a third Olympic gold.

And where would that lead?

What will be done? Who knows? Who thinks that sports and politics are, truly, separate?

We are living, in real time, in history.