AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Athletes at the Rio Olympic Games in August must believe that the authorities are on their side in ensuring the sport is free from drug cheats, IAAF President Lord Coe said in an interview on Thursday.

The head of the world governing body said he believed public confidence in athletics was improving following the exclusion of Russia for widespread drug misuse but he urged caution to those hoping for a quick fix in the fight against doping.

"Rio is a really important moment for us, because it will showcase the sport and again I want the spotlight to fall on clean athletes who every hour of their waking day are trying to figure out how, within the rules, they can be better," the Briton said.

"We have a responsibility to clean athletes to not just simply use more words. They do have to know ultimately we are in their corner," the double Olympic champion told Eurosport at the European athletics championships.

Coe said it could take years for the sport to improve the situation.

"It’s not like a slot machine where I can make five changes and pull a lever and something you trust is suddenly going to start spewing out into the till underneath," he said.

"It’s going to take time and it may well go beyond my mandate as president."

The IAAF president refused to comment on the likely outcome of this month's ruling by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on whether to overturn the ban on Russian athletes competing internationally.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has endorsed the IAAF ban on Russian athletes which was imposed after an IAAF investigation exposed evidence of systematic doping. CAS will rule on a Russian appeal against the exclusion on July 21.

"I can’t draw conclusions to this because this is clearly a process," he said. "The ultimate authority at the Olympics is the International Olympic Committee."

Asked if he felt progress had been made in restoring the public's confidence in athletics, he said: "Yes I do, but I don’t kid myself that this is a linear equation, it’s not."

(Reporting by Neil Robinson. Editing by Adrian Warner.)