WADA's latest report again lacks enough punch to solve bigger problem

IAAF president Sebastian Coe on WADA's latest report: "I know how serious this is. ... We are a failed organization." AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson

Instead of dragging track and field out of a dark tunnel, Thursday's presentation of investigative conclusions by the World Anti-Doping Agency's independent commission pushed it halfway back into a hall of mirrors.

Part II of the commission's report further described a blatantly corroded culture within the IAAF, track's international governing body, and stated that no one in its top ranks could have been oblivious. Yet commission president Richard Pound absolved one of those insiders, the man now in charge.

Those images blurred and clashed and left many of us dizzy.

It's true that the report's phrasing -- that members of the IAAF Council "could not have been unaware of" organizational nepotism, widespread doping and non-enforcement of anti-doping regulations -- doesn't carry evidentiary weight. But it was mind-numbing to see that language juxtaposed with Pound's defense of IAAF president Sebastian Coe.

Pound, the Canadian attorney, International Olympic Committee veteran and WADA's first president, has long been lauded for his toughness and objectivity. One of his more innocuous comments actually summed up the dichotomy quite well.

"I don't know how many international organizations you've presided over, but you always say something nice about your predecessor," Pound told a reporter -- who inquired, again, how Coe could have been so complimentary toward ex-IAAF chief Lamine Diack, now under criminal investigation for corruption by French investigators.

It's comforting to know that etiquette prevailed while so many other rules were being broken.

What transpired at Thursday's press conference in Munich will do little to dispel the notion that Olympic sport governance remains a club whose members prefer to patch holes in the system than embark on a full gut and remodel.

Pound made reference to the IAAF's lack of "genuine appetite" to acknowledge its internal issues. But how hungry are international Olympic officials for lasting reform if that means goring their own? After all, the residents of this world refer to themselves, without apparent irony, as a "family." He and Coe are both lifers, athletes-turned-executives. Coe was the face of London's 2012 Olympic bid.

Given the serious, sweeping issues exposed in the IAAF over the last year, and the way they compromised actual competition, it's fair to ask what malfeasance it would it take for an international federation to be declared out of compliance with WADA's code. It's fair to ask what would draw more than a slap on the wrist from the IOC, which issued a statement saying it would "undertake any necessary action" to restore faith in the sport. It's fair to ask about overlaps between these alphabet organizations.

Tempting as it is to make Pound and Coe lightning rods for frustration, spare a thought for the athletes. Remember them? The independent report raises far deeper questions on their behalf.

What does it say about 15-year-old WADA and its progeny, the national anti-doping agencies, if the entire system in a major sport can be undermined by an "informal illegitimate governance structure" that didn't even bother to cover its footprints very well? When state-sponsored doping continued and flourished in at least one major superpower? When kickbacks to cover up positive doping tests become just one more river of money to divert, along with bidding on events and broadcasting rights?

Just as the most ardent of drug testing protocols will always lag behind dopers, the anti-doping establishment is all but powerless when it comes to unmasking and punishing the bureaucrats who enable doping. In another parallel, journalistic and criminal investigations have proved to be the most effective tools in the fight.

Elite runners all over the world, like their brethren in other Olympic sports, submit their daily calendars to a vast monitoring system. They answer 6 a.m. knocks at their doors and drop their trousers to urinate on command. They can be suspended for taking many legal prescription drugs unless they provide proper paperwork beforehand, or prove they didn't knowingly ingest them. Mental lapses, fatigue or desperation are not considered acceptable excuses. In fact, they are often told they must have known, should have known, could not have been unaware they might be violating the rules.

Will sporting federations ever have to adhere to that standard of strict liability?

Barring new revelations, Coe will remain in office. It's now up to him and his organization to decide whether Russian track and field athletes will compete in Rio this summer - in effect, whether years of organized doping can be meaningfully addressed in a matter of months. It's up to his regime to decide whether the oddly uncontested award of the 2021 World Championships to Eugene, Oregon, will be re-bid. It's his job to ride herd on conflicts of interest like his own paid arrangement with Nike, only recently severed.

This is the most important start of Coe's career.

We'll see if it's a fresh one or a false one.