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Former BBC Reporter Member Of Parliament Joined Athletes To Call For Parliament Inquiry On Sebastian Coe’s Business

A former BBC reporter, now member of parliament and sits on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, John Nicolson has joined leading athletes in expressing their concerns after it emerged that a firm of which Lord Coe is executive chairman, CSM Sports and Entertainment, had been profiting from deals with the company that owns World Athletics’ commercial rights.

Nicolson was also surprised to learn that Lord Coe had not declared any of the lucrative deals struck between CSM and Dentsu as a potential conflict of interests for the sport’s ruling body. The Scottish National Party MP said that he would write to Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, seeking an inquiry as a matter of urgency.

I am concerned by the findings of this investigation,” Nicolson said. “Given that Lord Coe was appointed to this role following lobbying by the UK Government, I will be writing to the Culture Secretary to request him to bring forward an investigation as a matter of urgency.”

Lord Coe, has insisted that his position as CSM executive chairman does not conflict with his role at the head of the sport’s ruling body and has not prevented him from working objectively for the good of athletics.

Lord Coe also stressed that CSM had never solicited work directly from World Athletics, just as he promised when he became president in 2015. The former Olympic champion added that he had always abided by the federation’s strict code of compliance around conflicts of interests.

By the terms of rule 3.1.2 in the code’s guidelines around “conflicts, disclosures and gift rules”, staff are required to disclose all “significant interests whether or not considered to be in actual or potential conflict with the interests” of the federation.

An example of such a potential conflict is defined as “a position as an employee … [of] an entity or organisation which is in a contractual relationship … with any entity, organisation or person likely to benefit from the assistance of the IAAF”.

The code also says that staff are required to declare any shareholding of at least five per cent or “any other position or financial investment amounting to a material influence over any entity or organisation”.

A spokesperson said Lord Coe had not declared any of the deals struck between Dentsu and CSM, or any of the business advantages that CSM has enjoyed as a result of the relationship, because he “is not involved in the day-to-day running” of the business and this meant they were “not of material relevance” to the federation.

Lord Coe has also not declared his shareholding in CSM’s parent company Chime HoldCo Ltd. A CSM spokesperson said this was because it represented a “negligible percentage” and therefore was not a breach of the code. He did not disclose the percentage. Chime was valued at £374 million when sold to WPP, the advertising giant, in 2015.

Nicolson said: “Someone in Lord Coe’s position cannot be making objective decisions – or offering objective advice – for the good of athletics where he holds personal financial ­interests.”

Dentsu also bought out CSM New Zealand – CSM is headquartered in London – in 2018. Now called Halo Sport, it counted at least 13 All Black players among its clientele by the time of the Rugby World Cup a year later, making it one of its country’s leading sports management operations.

The CSM subsidiary iLUKA, meanwhile, provided “knowledge transfer” work for Dentsu and several of its clients to learn from Rio 2016 and assist its preparations for Tokyo 2020. Dentsu, which was awarded global commercial rights to the Tokyo Games, has played a leading role in organising that event.

Plus, the CSM’s group deputy chairman, Jim Glover, has been reported as saying that his company’s close relationship with Dentsu had been crucial to the significant amount of work it was awarded around the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which included contracts relating to branding and hospitality.

“You can’t really move there unless you’ve got some kind of relationship with them,” Glover said.

A spokesperson for CSM also denied that any of this work presented a conflict of interests on Lord Coe’s behalf.

However, the spokesperson admitted: “CSM and iLUKA does have a good working relationship with Dentsu. This is because they have a leading position in the Japanese market, and we are a leading sports marketing agency.”

The relationship would appear to have been particularly profitable over the past two years, with the iLUKA chief executive Jonny Hillmann claiming in the company’s own literature that the Rugby World Cup and Tokyo 2020 together promised to be a “huge delivery” for his firm.

Dentsu’s relationship with the ruling body predates Coe’s association with it and dates back to 2001, when Diack first awarded Dentsu the commercial rights to the International Association of Athletics’ Federations, as the federation was known then.

In 2014, with Lord Coe as vice-president, Diack extended the contract to 2029, granting the Japanese conglomerate long-term control over the bulk of the federation’s TV, advertising and sponsorship rights.

World Athletics renegotiated terms of this deal in 2018, but Dentsu retained its control over the federation, having been mandated to do so by the IAAF council. Lord Coe is the president of it and its executive board.

Olivier Gers resigned as World Athletics chief executive ahead of a fresh round of negotiations. It was understood that he believed the IAAF should have used the negotiations to try to loosen its ties with Dentsu.

Instead the Japanese company retained its control of the commercial rights. “The pre-existing commercial framework makes it difficult for me to fully leverage the assets of the IAAF in the way I would like,” Gers said at the time.

Christian Taylor, the Olympic long-jump champion, agreed that an inquiry was needed into the situation.

The American athlete was especially concerned after it was revealed last week that World Athletics lost £24.1 between 2014 and 2018 while bound by the Dentsu contract.

“Absolutely there does,” said Taylor, who co-founded the Athletics Association to serve as an athletes’ union. “That was the first thing that came to mind. Why is this not being investigated? If one person is profiting from a decision [to award Dentsu the commercial rights] that is not benefiting the group that you are trying to help, it is not the right thing to do.

“This is not a personal thing [with Lord Coe], because I don’t want it to be turned into a personal thing, it is business. World Athletics needs to give us answers.”

Gers was replaced as chief executive on an interim basis by Nigel Garfitt, who had worked alongside Lord Coe at CSM abd London 2012. Garfitt is one of several individuals to have worked for both CSM and World Athletics.

These include the World Athletics chief executive Jon Ridgeon and Theresa Miller, who continues to work for both organisations in compliance and governance on a consultancy basis. Miller was involved in the negotiations with Dentsu in 2018, reporting to the legal director and the former chief executive. There is no suggestion that any of these individuals were compromised in their work.

Emma Coburn, world champion in the 3,000m steeplechase in 2017, was concerned by the situation. “It’s confusing,” the American said. “We need to have some answers. I hope that they give some transparency.  

“There needs to be transparency on what is going on at World Athletics … if there are any conflict of interests that are affecting the health of World Athletics. If there’s nothing to hide, why hide it? If it’s all kosher and it’s all great, good for you, continue doing it. You’re a businessman and you can make these decisions.”

Lord Coe, meanwhile, said: “I and my teams at World Athletics and CSM take very seriously any allegations of inappropriate conduct as both organisations have strong governance and ethical compliance processes. We are all clear of the rules and abide by them at all times.”

Niels Lindholm, the World Athletics ethical compliance officer, added: “Our rules are very clear about conflicts of interest. We have a world-class process in place to monitor and manage any real or perceived conflicts. Our process is understood, robust and being adhered to.”

Coe’s role with CSM has been flagged as creating a potential conflict of interests with organisations other than Dentsu.

A CSM subsidiary which bid for work at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha withdrew from the tender process after World Athletics’ ethical compliance officer expressed concerns.

It was felt that it would be inappropriate for CSM to work on the event when Lord Coe had chaired the evaluation commission involved in assessing Doha. A CSM spokesperson said: “CSM acted in full compliance with its Athletics Business Policy agreed with World Athletics, and no conflict of interest occurred.”

The International Olympic Committee, meanwhile, this month nominated Lord Coe for membership having repeatedly rejected his potential candidacy in the past because CSM has worked on recent winter and summer Games.

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, said his nomination has now been accepted after Lord Coe “committed himself to change his status within the company he is currently running as managing director to a passive position”.

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