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LORD COE, the president of the governing body of world athletics, is facing a new row about conflict of interests as it emerges that his partnership’s consultancy has been paid by Saudi Arabia to help its athletes achieve Olympic glory.

Coe flew to Saudi Arabia last March in a paid role to help the country to sporting success. The programme continued after he was elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) last August.

Damian Collins, a Tory MP and member of the Commons’ culture, media and sport committee, said: “This throws up a conflict of interest. He should not be involved in any business activities linked to athletics.”

Coe has found himself embroiled in a scandal over corruption and governance failures at the IAAF.

Last week a damning independent report headed by Dick Pound, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said the IAAF had covered up doping and at least some of its council members must have known of the cheating.

But Pound insists Coe is the right man to lead the IAAF.

Coe quit his role with Nike over the award of an event to Eugene, Oregon, which has historical links to the company

Coe quit his role with Nike over the award of an event to Eugene, Oregon, which has historical links to the company (Christopher Morris/Corbis)

The controversy has turned the spotlight on the potential conflict between Coe’s commercial activities and his role as one of the most influential figures in sport governance.

He announced in November that he was ending a 38-year ambassadorial role with the American sportswear giant Nike after conflict-of-interest claims over the award of the 2021 world championships to Eugene, Oregon, which has historical ties to the company.

Coe is also executive chairman of the partnership CSM Sport & Entertainment, which is ultimately owned by Providence Equity Partners, an American firm. CSM’s consultancy arm, CSM Strategic, was appointed in January last year to lead the development of an elite athletes’ programme for the Saudi Olympic committee.

Two months later Coe was greeted by Prince Nawaf bin Mohammed, president of Saudi Arabia’s athletics federation, in Riyadh, where he provided his expertise for workshops on Olympic success. Bin Mohammed is now a member of the IAAF council.

In November CSM Strategic said it was working closely with sport federations, coaches and athletes to develop and implement a long-term performance strategy for Saudi Arabia.

The work, due to finish in April, focuses on helping athletes from a range of sports prepare for Olympic competition. Coe’s team did not see any conflict with his role at the IAAF.

It has also emerged that CSM Strategic is working on a bid to help Rome win the right to host the Olympics in 2024.

If, like his disgraced predecessor Lamine Diack, Coe is elected to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a potential conflict would arise because he might vote on whether a paying client of his firm should be awarded the Games for which it has been lobbying.

Collins accused Coe of not being sufficiently alert to potential conflicts of interest.

“If he is requested to look at a case involving athletics in Saudi Arabia but he has a commercial interest with the Saudi Olympic committee, then he is conflicted,” he said.

“It is not just a question of whether a conflict actually exists, it is whether there is a perception that it could exist, that someone could receive different or favourable treatment. This is a distinction that he fails to draw and that he failed to draw with his Nike contract.”

Collins said he would support Coe being paid in his IAAF role — currently an unpaid job — but added that the two-time Olympic gold medallist needed first to give up any commercial interests linked to athletics.

He said: “He either has no role with CSM at all — in the same way as a government minister would give up such interests — or there should be much stricter rules that prevent [CSM] being involved with anything to do with athletics, which would include working for Olympic committees of different countries or bids for host countries.”

Coe has sought the advice of the IAAF Ethics Commission on how to handle his commercial interests. It advised him that he could retain all of his paid roles, including the Nike ambassadorial post, but should not participate in or seek to influence any IAAF decision involving such organisations.

Sources close to Coe said it would be counterproductive to prevent him from sharing his expertise and experience with countries and organisations, although he reluctantly chose to relinquish the Nike role.

In November Coe said CSM would not bid for any IAAF work during his presidency.

Coe sold his consultancy Complete Leisure Group to the marketing company Chime Communications in 2013. He then became CSM’s executive chairman. The firm helped Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, win the bid to host last year’s inaugural European Games.

CSM Strategic has also been involved in a controversial redevelopment plan for the Crystal Palace athletics stadium and sports complex in south London.

Zak Brown, group chief executive of CSM, said there was no conflict between Coe’s role with the IAAF and CSM Strategic’s work for the Saudi Olympic committee.

“I have never met another person who has been more transparent over the work he does,” he said.

CSM said Coe had not been involved in the contract since his visit to Saudi Arabia last March and would not be involved again. It said there was also no conflict over the work on the Rome bid.

A spokesman for Coe said there had been no approach about him becoming a member of the IOC.

An IAAF spokesman said: “[Coe] has been very clear about better governance for the IAAF, which will include registrations of interest for key positions and key members.

Andy McGowan
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