Seb Coe and Thomas Bach: united in history, divided by history

While World Athletics president Sebastian Coe sides with democratic nations, the IOC President Thomas Bach rejects their statements on Russia's war of aggression as uninformed and a violation of sport’s autonomy.

Doha 2019: IOC president Thomas Bach, IOC member and Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Sebastian Coe.
Doha 2019, Athletics World Championships: IOC president Thomas Bach, IOC member and Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Sebastian Coe. (Foto: Amiri Diwan)

Backed by China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the IOC paves the way so Russian athletes including military personnel can come back to the Olympics. But resistance is growing.

The two Olympic champions Thomas Bach and Sebastian Coe were once friends. They both have experience from an Olympic boycott: Bach, who is from West Germany, was deprived of his second Olympic participation in 1980 – the Briton Coe took part in Moscow and won his first of two gold medals.

A year later, both were selected by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch for the first IOC Athletes‘ Commission at the historical Olympic Congress in Baden-Baden that ended the amateur age and ushered in the large-scale commercialisation of the Olympic Games.

In spite of their shared experiences in the past, Bach and Coe, the president of the IOC and the president of World Athletics (WA), who once called each other Professor and Shakespeare, could not have acted more differently in recent years. This is demonstrated again these days, despite the fact that Sebastian Coe has also been an ex-officio member of the IOC since 2020.

The long-standing disputes over the appropriate responses to Russia’s fundamental crimes against sport and international law caused their friendship to grow cold. First the Russian state doping system, then the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine.

The IOC, led with an iron hand by German Thomas Bach, has been preparing the readmission of athletes from Russia and Belarus behind the scenes for months. To this day, they are just too tactical to tell the truth.