Adidas testing the IAAF’s resilience


Tips on how the IAAF and Lord Coe can turn the tide

The recent decision made by Adidas, the IAAF’s biggest sponsor, to cancel their sponsorship four years early due to the on-going drugs and corruption scandal surrounding IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations), has plummeted the organisation into further disarray. With the Rio 2016 Olympic Games only 7 months away the spotlight is firmly on the IAAF and its president, Lord Seb Coe. He has already mentioned that ‘trust in athletics may not return until way beyond his four-year term as IAAF president’ with the latest independent report stating “corruption was embedded” within the governing body.  

This isn’t the first global scandal currently under the microscope, FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) is still in ongoing corruption chaos and Volkswagen are still licking their wounds after their emissions scandal affected 11 million vehicles in September of last year. All these organisations have found themselves in vulnerable positions and need to develop their resilience in order to regain trust in the midst of such turmoil.

We think the following tips will enable the IAAF and Lord Coe to develop their resilience and prepare effectively for the future:



The IAAF should prioritise their long term vision, focussing on eradicating the problems and concentrating on what Lord Coe has planned to achieve over the next four years as president. He can then understand and map out what success can look like and allocate resources according to need rather than influence.



Having a learning mindset is imperative. Turning the challenges and current problems into opportunities to focus on what they could do differently, the IAAF have the potential to bounce back stronger as a result of this scandal. Exploring what changes they can make to move the organisation closer to the trusted authority it needs to be. Using data to challenge subjective views and using outside perspectives where possible are just a number of examples to constantly seek improvement1. Lord Coe should attempt to create an environment within the IAAF where failure leads to learning and innovation.



Noticing isn’t only about the act of seeing but also being open to what others are seeing and creating conditions in which they feel able to report this1. This could be true in the IAAFs case if an environment is created where individuals are comfortable in positively intended ‘whistle blowing’ then major incidents, such as corruption and doping scandals, can be avoided in the future. Developing greater transparency and working with outside agencies will help restore trust.  Utilising and demonstrating a greater awareness of the issues they are facing and using other perspectives will allow them to effectively navigate the current challenges they have.



Numerous large-scale incidents are often as a result of small errors accumulating without being addressed properly. A focus on the little things that make the biggest difference will ensure correct systems, processes, procedures and people in place can trap small errors before they escalate1. With some senior people leaving due to the scandal, Lord Coe should be looking at recruiting and developing employees that have the required skills and knowledge to do their job. This would help to eradicate any issues that could lead to any high-profile scandals in the future.


Embedding these behaviours within the IAAF will take time, however the ability to change, before the cost of not changing becomes too great, is vitally important. They have already experienced financial decline (Adidas sponsorship cancellation), reputational damage (corruption scandal) and societal harm (failed drug tests). If they don’t make effective changes it could even lead to the complete demise of the organisation. These behaviours will help to create a stable foundation on which long-term sustainable high performance can be built1.



1Lane4 White Paper: Organisational Resilience: How to change before you have to



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