World athletics chief Sebastian Coe insisted on Wednesday the World Championships had not been “derailed” by the Alberto Salazar doping case after the high-profile coach was banned for four years.

International Association of Athletics Federations president Coe said the governing body had reacted swiftly after news broke that Salazar, the founder of the Nike Oregon Project training group, had been suspended by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

“We’re dealing with it. It doesn’t derail the championship,” Coe told reporters.

“It may for you guys, but in reality it’s not a broader issue for most people watching the championships.”

Several athletes who are members of the Oregon Project are competing at the World Championships, and two have already romped to gold medals, the Netherlands’ Ethiopian-born 10,000m champion Sifan Hassan and men’s 800m winner Donavan Brazier of the United States.

Coe however cautioned against casting a blanket of suspicion over athletes who were members of the Oregon Project, warning that to do so risked guilt by association.

“I’m sorry, I don’t live in that world where you just automatically assume the worst,” Coe said.

“The reality of it is, the charges that have been laid by USADA are serious.”

Coe however encouraged athletes to scrutinise their training environments amid comments from USADA chief executive Travis Tygart on Wednesday that Salazar had treated Oregon Project runners like “laboratory animals.”

“If you are coached by somebody, you should be absolutely comfortable that you are working in an environment that’s safe and secure and is not going to damage your own reputation,” Coe said.

“(Athletes) should want to know what is being done in their name is done to the highest standards.”

Coe meanwhile defended Britain’s 2012 and 2016 Olympic hero Mo Farah for his long association with Salazar.

Farah split with the Oregon Project in 2017 after six years, but insisted USADA’s ongoing investigation into Salazar was unrelated to his decision.

“Mo is an outstanding athlete and as I said at the time, and I get asked the question, as I do regularly, should this athlete be with this coach?” Coe said.

“I say the burden of proof can only be on malfeasance. If that’s proven clearly they shouldn’t and if there are questions that are being raised, the athletes should ask really tough questions.

“If they remain with those coaches you have to presume they have had those questions satisfactorily answered.”

‘Need to focus on quality’

Coe also played down the spectacle of empty seats at the World Championships in Qatar on Wednesday, vowing to continue to seek out new territories to stage the championships in future.

The opening three days of competition in Doha were marked by swathes of empty seats at the Khalifa Stadium, where capacity had already been reduced to a modest 21,000.

Several athletes have joined the criticism over the poor attendances, questioning the decision to stage the championships in the Middle East for the first time.

However, Coe insisted that the quality of the performances on the track had outshone the issue of the empty stadium.

“We want a full stadium and that has to be the challenge but we need to focus also on the absolute quality of what we are seeing here,” Coe told reporters.

“I can’t remember a World championships actually that has delivered at this level for a long time,” he added, citing the example of Tuesday’s 800m final won by Donavan Brazier and Monday’s 400m hurdles battle won by Norway’s Karsten Warholm.

Crowds have improved since the low attendances of last weekend, with more fans filling seats on Monday and Tuesday’s sessions.

Coe added that the championships had also been affected by the regional tensions, which have seen Qatar boycotted by its neighbours.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies have cut direct air, land and shipping routes, closed airspace to Qatari aircraft and restricted citizens from visiting.

“It was always going to be a challenge and this is a country that has to deal with a set of circumstances that none of us foresaw five years ago when Qatar was given the chance of hosting it,” Coe said, citing the example of a recent flight he had taken from Doha to Abu Dhabi which had taken seven hours.

“I went through Oman and sat there for four or five hours,” Coe said. “That’s a 45-minute flight. The ability to move around has been severely restricted.”

Coe meanwhile said that the IAAF would continue to seek out new venues for the championships rather than rotating through traditional European strongholds of track and field.

“If we’re a global sport, we have to be seen as global,” he said.

“It can’t keep going back to the same eight or nine places that we’ve always sort of focused on in the past.

“There are places which are going to take longer for us to go to but people have to believe this sport is theirs, it’s not just rooted in a handful of European capitals.”

(with AFP inputs)