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Great Hair, But Seb Coe's Inability to Admit Error Does the IAAF a Disservice

It is hard sometimes to believe Seb Coe is out of his depth in the IAAF presidency because he has such excellent hair.

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27 November 2015, 3:45pm

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It is hard sometimes to believe Seb Coe is out of his depth in the IAAF presidency because, I think, he has such excellent hair. Lustrous and reliable, thick and memorable – it is exactly the type of hair all male would-be corporate ladder-climbers would kill for.

Excitingly long for a 59-year-old man, Lord Coe's hair speaks of vigorous professional and physical (and no doubt sexual) competence. In the boardroom, overhead lights bouncing off it to form a dazzling corona, it must take on an awe inspiring radiance. Hollywood and centuries of human evolution have hardwired us not to question a man with hair like this.

And that is lucky, because lately Coe – who last night finally stopped defending the indefensible and cut his ties with Nike – has been acting like an imbecile.

At the end of August, asked why as head of global athletics' supposedly independent governing body the IAAF he would go on accepting large sums of cash from Nike, a commercial giant with considerable and obvious interests in influencing the global athletics firmament, Coe told The Guardian:

"There are three things to bear in mind here. A conflict is only a conflict if it is not a registered responsibility. I think I am the most transparent person who has ever sought office. You can go to any number of websites, everything I do is in the public domain.

"Secondly, it is only a conflict if you can't stand behind procedures and processes. And, thirdly, it's [a conflict] if you behave badly. I don't intend to do any of those three."

This would be an amazing statement from any official, anywhere, but from a British peer and former Member of Parliament it is staggering.

Even Sepp Blatter would surely not have claimed with a straight face that trousering £100,000 a year from Nike on the proviso he didn't intend to "behave badly" was acceptable conduct for the head of an independent international sports federation.

That Coe was prepared to ask us to believe precisely that was, and still is, instructive – not least because it reveals an alarming ignorance of what the IAAF governances and processes he is so fond of referencing are actually designed to do.

When Channel 4's Jon Snow recently interviewed Coe, he took him to task on the massive, endemic problems athletics faces, most pressingly the covering up by authorities of widespread doping.

Coe replied that he would solve the problem by reviewing IAAF governances.

"Should we have seen this coming?" he said. "The answer may well be 'yes' to that question. But we need to look at the corporate governances and internal governances that allowed this to happen, and that is now my responsibility."

On the strength of that statement – and given his own reluctance to confront the piece of so-called governance that allowed him to be personally enriched by Nike – it seems highly doubtful that performance-enhancing drug-taking 100 metre sprinters everywhere are now rushing to bury their syringes.

But the feeling persists that Coe did not cut his ties with Nike because it was the right thing to do, but because on December 2 he will appear before a House of Commons select committee to be grilled on the extent of corruption in athletics and, no doubt, on his role in awarding the 2021 World Championships to Eugene (which just happens to be the Oregon city in which Nike's global headquarters is located).

At this meeting, as he attempts to bat off the committee's questions, it is a racing certainty we will hear yet more flannel on what he has done and is doing to review IAAF governance. Were he still in the pay of Nike, it would be impossible to take seriously a word he said.

As he announced to the press he had quit his Nike role, Coe still, risibly, claimed there was never a conflict of interest, but that instead "perception and reality" had "become horribly mangled." What hooey.

Wonderful hair or not, Coe's stubbornness on this issue has done the IAAF a great disservice.

@damianreilly