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Athletics boss Coe backs Doha 2019 despite Gulf row

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International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe gestures as he addresses a press conference in Monaco on November 26, 2017

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Aug 26 – World athletics chief Sebastian Coe has dismissed concerns over countries potentially boycotting next year’s world championships in Doha over simmering political tensions in the Gulf region.

The oil-rich state of Qatar has been cut off by some of its powerful Arab neighbours, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain, who accuse it of supporting terrorism, with land, air and sea traffic all hit by the year-long row.

But Coe, speaking in Jakarta at the Asian Games on Sunday, said he expected all the national athletics federations to take part in the 2019 competition, which begins on September 28.

“I want every federation to be there,” the president of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, said in an interview with news agencies.

“I see no reason why they shouldn’t. Political fragilities from time to time emerge in all systems,” added Coe.

“It is very important that international sport maintains its primacy. Picking your partnerships around politics can be a pretty transient process if you’re not careful.

“I’m confident that we’ll have a full house in Qatar.”

One country which isn’t guaranteed to join the party is Russia, which was suspended by the IAAF in November 2015 after allegations of widespread, state-sponsored doping.

The country remains banned until this December at the earliest, pending a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“The honest answer is I don’t know,” said Coe when asked about Russia’s participation in Doha.

“Clearly we are still waiting for WADA to determine the compliance or otherwise of the Moscow lab… They will report back to us in November.

“I’m very clear about it that the process we started will be seen through.”

Coe, who won gold in the 1,500 metres at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, sees the fight against doping as a battle for hearts and minds.

“It’s a process that has produced change,” he insisted. “The twin challenge is not just to create a system that gets us through the initial difficulty. It is also to have a system that creates and embeds change — and it’s cultural.

“It’s not just about Russia,” added Coe. “We’ve got to have a generation of young coaches that wake up in the morning believing that you can do what my father did, which was to take a kid from the playground to an Olympic rostrum.”

While admitting it was “unrealistic” to expect athletics to become completely clean, Coe believes the IAAF is on the right track in its fight against drug cheats.

“Ben Johnson did a lot of damage to our sport — we shouldn’t be coy about that,” he said, referring to the disgraced Canadian’s steroid-fuelled 100 metres dash to notoriety at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

“But the landscape is a lot safer than when I was competing. I think progress is moving in the right direction.”

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