London: World athletics chief Sebastian Coe has defended his sport's approach to anti-doping, insisting it was far more "proactive" than "protective" despite a drugs scandal he accepted had caused "irreparable damage".
Last year's hard-hitting World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that revealed state-sponsored doping in Russia has seen the country suspended from all international competition.
Perhaps even more alarming have been allegations that senior track and field figures, including Coe's predecessor as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Lamine Diack, were involved in corrupt practices that saw positive dope tests covered up in return for bribes.
Meanwhile Belarus, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Morocco and leading athletics nation Kenya have all been warned by the IAAF they must improve their anti-doping programmes of face the same sanctions as Russia, whose athletes are currently barred from this year's Olympic Games in Rio.
It all amounts to the worst crisis in athletics' history.
But Coe, in an interview with former track rival turned BBC commentator Steve Cram to be broadcast in full on Saturday, defended the IAAF's record.
"I think the IAAF has been far, far more proactive than it has been protective," said British middle-distance great Coe, who won 1500 metres gold at both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles respectively.
"You know as well as I do that if you don't go fishing, you don't catch fish and there are many sports that have taken that attitude.
"The IAAF hasn't, actually. A few people infiltrated the system and caused us irreparable damage, there's no point in even pretending otherwise.
"But actually, if you look at all the key advances that have been made in sport around anti-doping, they've more than often been driven by my sport -- the athlete biological passport, the out-of-competition random testing.
"We have paid a very high price for what has been revealed in the last few years but actually our systems have shown to be pretty robust."
Coe, who was coached by his father, added: "I think there's a twin challenge here as well: if we don't get the trust of the athletes back, if we haven't got the families, the parents feeling comfortable that this is a sport they are going to devote time and energy and affection to, we might as well all go home."
Meanwhile Coe reiterated his calls for shorter World Championships while at the same time arguing the athletics season needed to be extended to boost the sport's global profile.
"This is about survival, doing radical things. I have to put to the back of my mind it's an unpopular thing to do," said Coe, who succeeded Diack in August last year.
Coe added he wanted to see far more head-to-head clashes between elite competitors.
"Agents and managers at the beginning of the season say 'our guy is going to have a quiet year'," he said.
"It's a bit like selling season tickets at Barcelona and saying Lionel Messi is only going to play one in three games. You don't do that."
Published Date: Mar 26, 2016 13:23 PM | Updated Date: Mar 26, 2016 13:23 PM