Coe not sure if fans will pack stadium for Olympic track

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2010 file photo Sebastian Coe, then Chair of the London 2012 Organizing Committee at the IOC Coordination Commission pauses during the closing press conference in London at the close of a three-day visit by IOC officials checking on preparations for the 2012 Olympic games in London. Entrusted with cleaning up a sport mired in sleaze and doping deceptions has proved far trickier for Coe than the pursuit of gold on the track. It’s a year since Coe’s misguided pronouncement that Lamine Diack, his predecessor as president of the International Association of Athletics Federation, was the “spiritual leader” of athletics. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

RIO DE JANEIRO — It seems everywhere you turn in track and field right now there's bad news.

Two days before the track competition starts at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, IAAF President Sebastian Coe said Wednesday that he's "not confident" there will be full crowds.

"Are we going to have full houses? I don't know the answer to that," Coe said.

The Rio crowds could have given Coe a rare positive to highlight in a news conference that was almost completely about the negatives: Doping, banned athletes, previously banned dopers being able to compete in Rio, and what the IAAF is doing to change the way it works after 12 months that rocked the sport and its governing body to the core. Along with the huge doping scandal in Russia — Coe called it "cataclysmic" — corruption crept into the IAAF, too, under former president Lamine Diack.

"Yes, the last year has sorely tested all of us and I'm very clear about it, it has sorely tested our fans and supporters out there," Coe said. "We have to be mindful of where we've come from, but our responsibility now is to shape the future."

Many of the questions posed to Coe at the IAAF's beachside hotel in Ipanema dealt with how the International Olympic Committee had taken different approaches to the IAAF when it came to Russia's extensive state-sponsored doping scheme.

Coe tread carefully, but hinted at what are clearly differing opinions between the two.

One of the issues presented to Coe: Doping whistleblower and 800-meter runner Yuliya Stepanova, who was crucial in helping to reveal Russia's wrongdoing, wasn't allowed by the IOC to compete at the Olympics while sprinter Justin Gatlin, banned twice for doping, can.

"It is the IOC's event," Coe said. But he also offered this: "If athletes are prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and help, then we should recognize that."

Speaking about Gatlin, Coe, who would prefer dopers be banned for life, said: "I can't change my view on that, but he is eligible to compete and he should be accorded the same courtesy that any athlete within those codes and those rules is accorded."

And Coe was asked about the IOC's decision to back away from a ban on all Russian competitors at the Olympics despite the country's state-sponsored doping, when the IAAF took the bold decision to ban all Russian track and field athletes.

"Organizations made judgments that they presumably felt was in the best interests of those organizations," Coe said. "We certainly made a judgment in athletics. The IOC made a judgment, it was endorsed by IOC members, and I'm not sure I can add any more than that."

Where the IOC and the IAAF are together is a preference for life bans for serial dopers — someone like Gatlin. Following IOC President Thomas Bach's announcement that the Olympic body might pursue the possibility of life bans again — life bans have twice been struck down by sport's highest court — Coe said the IAAF would be "open to that."

With the body facing a long road back to winning fans' trust, the IAAF council had this week ratified proposals to change the way it works, Coe said. Those proposals will go to a special congress of all the sport's national federations in December to be voted on and hopefully, he said, approved. The changes included setting up a body completely independent of the IAAF to deal with the sport's doping and ethics issues.

"No change was not an option," Coe said.

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