Coe warns potential drug cheats at Olympics that they ‘will not sleep easily’

    Sebastian Coe has admitted the Paris Olympics this summer will not be drug free, but his fervent hope is that they will be cleaner than previous games.

    Asked at the Hay Festival on Wednesday whether he thought the Games, which begin on 26 July, will be free from drugs controversy, the World Athletics president said that “the answer to that is, sadly, no”.

    “Human nature tells me that there will always be a few people, even with the right education programmes, and tough deterrents, that are going to make that risk-reward decision and step outside the moral boundaries.”

    However, he said that testing technology is improving, and “no athlete that thinks they’ve got away with it on one occasion can sleep easily”.

    Asked about potential protests over Israel’s inclusion in the Games, Coe said the security concerns would be “complicated”. He said that compared to 2012 – when he led the organisation of the London Olympics – “there are more conflicts out there, and there are many more organisations and foreign actors which we’re dealing with now that we weren’t”.

    He said that in 2012 one of the key concerns highlighted in a risk analysis was actually the pressure group Fathers for Justice. In a sign of much more troubled times he said: “Things are more complicated in Paris.”

    Speaking on the World Athletics decision taken in March 2023 to ban transgender women who transitioned after puberty from competing in elite women’s events, Coe said that if such rules are not put in place, “no woman will win another sporting event, and it is, I’m afraid, as binary as that”.

    However, he said that transgender women running in women’s categories in local fun runs was “fine” and, in fact, “important”.

    He said that culture wars over the issue are “one of the most depressing and disfiguring elements” in British politics. “Whenever I’m thinking and making statements about this, I actually always try to put it into the frame of: ‘How would I feel if that was my daughter or my son being spoken about?’”

    The Paris Games start on 26 July and run until Sunday 11 August. Photograph: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

    Coe also said that he was “disappointed” in the way that the Australian state of Victoria had handled its cancellation of the 2026 Commonwealth Games. “I didn’t think that was pristine courtesy”. He said that sport is “probably the key element of cement now” in the Commonwealth.

    He added the Commonwealth Games “has an opportunity now, probably through ‘force majeure’ to re-engineer itself.” It will “need to think hard” about whether the format and costs are appropriate, which will likely mean being “a bit brutal about some of the sports”. Not all disciplines “are popular or television-grabbing moments, and sadly we now have to think that way because the future of sport at that level is dependent on being able to attract new, young, vibrant audiences”.

    Coe argued that it was “right” to ask questions about the potential conflict of interest in the partnership between Coca-Cola and the International Olympic Committee, of which Coe is a member. He said that while he is “not an apologist” for the drinks company, it has “been with the Olympic movement since 1928”. However, “if you were coming fresh to the table now, maybe that wouldn’t be a brand that was automatically there”.

    In the “landscape of obesity and health-related fitness, which I know is hugely complicated, I think it’s very easy to point fingers at one element”, Coe said. However, there “are some brands that you look at and think that’s a bit odd that they are associated with sport and physicality, which is supposed to be about health and longevity”.

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