By Gene Cherry
MONACO (Reuters) – A sweeping reform package that changes how the scandal-hit governing body of world athletics operates was overwhelmingly passed at a special Congress on Saturday.
“This is a very important moment in the history of our sport,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said after Congress members voted 182 to 10 in favor of the reforms.
“This is a ringing endorsement of our commitment to do things differently,” Coe told a news conference.
“We now have structures, frameworks and foundations that will create a safety net.”
The “Time for Change” proposals, the centerpiece of Coe’s agenda for moving the sport forward from its tainted past, established new independent anti-doping, integrity and disciplinary functions along with a greater voice for athletes in the organization and more gender balance.
The reforms also place more governance power in the hands of the IAAF Executive Board.
Previously, much of that authority rested with since disgraced former president Lamine Diack, who along with his son Papa Massata Diack is currently under investigation by French authorities on corruption and money-laundering charges involving millions of euros.
“It’s bad enough that any of this happened, but it cannot happen for a second time, not on our watch, not anyone else’s watch,” Coe said.
The Briton, who became IAAF President in 2015, said before the vote that the changes will restore trust in athletics and return confidence to clean athletes.
“Our partnerships and revenue streams are directly under threat if we do not act promptly and decisively,” he wrote in introducing the proposals.
“I hope the public perceptions of our sport is helped by what they have seen today, but that is not primarily why we did it. We did it because we were in need of change,” Coe said.
Portions of the restructuring will become effective in 2017, including the launching of an integrity unit and a disciplinary panel, with others changes set for 2019.
No major athletics country voted against the proposals although Jamaica, the world’s dominant sprint power, surprisingly did not vote.
Saudi Arabia and a handful of African and Asian nations were notable among those casting “no” votes.
Concerns were expressed about the increase in gender equity and area representation as well why the vote was publicly recorded.
“Transparency sits at the heart of everything we have been talking about,” Coe said of the open vote.
If the reforms had not been voted in, it would have been the final nail in athletics’ coffin, British world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe had said on Twitter before the vote.
An independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WAD) investigation last year said “corruption was embedded” at the IAAF under Diack who, it added, ran a clique that covered up organized doping and blackmailed athletes while senior officials looked the other way.
The investigation also exposed state-sponsored Russian doping, leading the IAAF to ban the Russian athletics federation and its athletes from participating in this year’s Rio Olympics.
Another report by Canadian professor Richard McLean on Friday is expected to reveal more damming details on the organization and doping in Russia.
The IAAF also confirmed a three-year agreement with Japanese sportswear giant Asics Corp to take over from Adidas as an official sponsor of the ruling body.
Adidas, which had signed an 11-year sponsorship contract with the IAAF that was set to run until 2019, said on Friday it was ending the deal three years early.
The special congress concluded a four-day meeting of track and field officials during which the IAAF decided to continue its ban on Russian athletics.
Task force head Rune Andersen said progress had been made, but issues still needed clarifying, including how IAAF and RUSADA (Russian Anti-Doping) will be able to carry out testing without interference.
The governing body also celebrated the selection of nine- times Olympic champion Usain Bolt, who is retiring after 2017, as its male athlete of the year for a sixth time and chose Ethiopian 10,000 meters world record holder Almaz Ayana as the top female athlete.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)