There is an interesting parallel between the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the ongoing drug and corruption scandal darkening the halls of the IAAF.
Though Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders stand on opposite sides of the political spectrum, both represent strong outsider positions suggesting the political system has been rigged by too close an association between politicians and business interests whose greenback contributions subvert the pol’s allegiance to the constituents they were elected to represent.
Last night at the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the thrust of the Vermont senator’s critique centered on Secretary Clinton’s financial ties to Wall Street and Big Pharma. Without disavowing the $675,000 she received for three speeches to Goldman Sachs, Clinton dismissed what she called Sander’s “artful smear”, declaring there was never a quid pro quo, nor had she ever changed a vote based on such financial considerations.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump has gained much of his political traction by harping, “I am self-funding my campaign,” inferring he wouldn’t be beholden to any of the special interest groups that largely fund his opponents (though his sizable wealth makes him something of a one-man special interest).
Within the ranks of the IAAF, new president Sebastian Coe has been roundly criticized for, among other things, not giving up a lucrative contract with Nike (for being one of its brand ambassadors) until pressured to do so in the wake of the scandal that has his predecessor Lamine Diack awaiting further visits from the French gendarmes on corruption and extortion charges.
In the WADA-funded Independent Commission report that followed Diack’s retirement, I.C. chair Dick Pound implicated not only Diack for his alleged crimes, but also called out the entire IAAF Council, including Coe, for its willful disregard in allowing corruption to become so embedded in the organization. But then, in a head-snapping move, Pound endorsed the two-time Olympic champion as the ideal man to oversee the necessary reforms. Blind man as watchdog, interesting concept.
What has come under increasing fire in both the American political campaign and the IAAF scandal is not just the concentration of wealth and power by the well-connected — or the overt corruption and extortion recently uncovered in Monaco — but the appearance of impropriety that shadows it all.
That neither Secretary Clinton nor Lord Coe saw any conflict-of-interest while accepting lucrative payments from major business interests that might reasonably come before them one day while in office is the blind-spot that begs for light.
Hillary tried to deflect Senator Sanders’ charge that she was the establishment candidate by raising the women’s card, saying her potential as the first woman president made her, by definition, the ultimate outsider. But Sanders had already gone post-feminist, not limiting Hillary to her gender, but according her the full measure of her 20+ year tenure in Washington, beginning with her eight years as First Lady, extending through her two terms as U.S. senator from New York, then on to her unsuccessful presidential run in 2008, and finally to her service as President Obama’s Secretary of State.
For his part, Sebastian Coe had been a Nike brand ambassador for 38 years. So it’s understandable how that long-standing relationship might be seen as acceptable even after he took the position of unpaid volunteer vice-president at the IAAF in 2007. But once he entered the president’s office in the summer of 2015, and in light of conflict of interest claims over the 2021 World Championships going to Eugene, Oregon, where Nike is headquartered, and then the circumstances that attended his predecessor’s fall from grace, finally Coe relented in late November, saying, “I’ve stepped down from my ambassadorial role with Nike…but it is clear that perception and reality have become horribly mangled.”
But isn’t that exactly the point? Perception is reality.
Pragmatists say you can’t overturn the entirety of such systems, because the ambient culture has long since settled into place. But that is the insidiousness of a rigged, insider’s system. Not to see these relationships as conflicting is to fail understand that it is distance itself that governing requires in order serve as an honest broker.
So while it may prove to be uncomfortable, even jarring, until a true outsider is brought in with the proper cleaning crew and cleanser, the dirt will only find different corners in which to collect.