Alan Hubbard

Those close to Lord Sebastian Coe say he has aged ten years in the six months he has been President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), hardly surprising in view of the pile of manure into which he has trodden.

I was castigated by some of my media colleagues for wondering in a previous insidethegames piece if there was something of a vendetta being orchestrated against him in the public prints with the constant barrage of criticism and insinuation mounted almost on a daily basis.

I fully accept that this is not the case. However, vendetta is an emotive word and it is one never far from the lips of Coe’s cohorts.

Leading up to his elevation to the top job in world athletics, his lordship always had a cordial relationship with a media he has described as the most forensic in the world.

Since then the scalpels have been digging away attempting to unearth any links he might have had to the scandals and corruption that had permeated the IAAF before he assumed office, as his questioners were entitled to do.

But I have always believed that while he may have been uncharacteristically politically naive he is certainly not corrupt or corruptible.

In dealing with those probes no doubt Coe made mistakes and in retrospect he probably would have handled some things differently.

But it clearly has taken its toll and it will be interesting to see just how world weary he has become when he appears on this Thursday’s Clare Balding TV chat show, screened by BBC 2 and BT.

I doubt La Balding will subject him to any Paxman-like inquisition on the maelstroms swirling around athletics. But having seen a trailer for the programme I can reveal that Coe will come out punching in support of his other great sporting passion, boxing.

The ardent fight fan and former Board of Control steward declares: "I am probably going to say something politically incorrect here, but I would love to see boxing back in schools.”

Sebastian Coe will appear on the Clare Balding show this week
Sebastian Coe will appear on the Clare Balding show this week ©Getty Images

Actually it is in many schools, though as physical exercise rather than physical contact. But Seb is right. Under proper control it would be an asset to the national curriculum - for both boys and girls.

”The great thing about boxers is that they are such all round athletes,” he says. ”It is an extraordinary sport.“

The former double Olympic gold medallist and prime architect of the London Olympics will be appearing with boxing’s golden girl Nicola Adams.

Balding, who once professed her dislike for what she called ‘the dirty and corrupt’ fight game, seems to have changed her tune, especially since being reminded that there are far more pulled horses in her sport of racing than there have ever been pulled punches in boxing.

Last week the former world champion Ricky Hatton was one of her guests and he was telling her about his friendship with one-time opponent Manny Pacquiao, and what a great bloke he thinks he is..

Obviously the show was pre-recorded before the Pacman’s outrageous comments about same-sex marriage, otherwise one suspects the smile of Ms Balding, who is in one, may have worn rather thin.

As, indeed might that of Ms Adams, herself something of a gay icon who "came out" as bisexual after the London Games. 

So what on earth was Pacquiao thinking when he embarked on his astonishing homophobic rant last week?

If Coe is now considered by some a tarnished hero then just what opprobrium must be heaped on another national icon like Pacquiao?

As a putative political leader in his native Philippines he should have been aware in this age of acute political correctness that, just as new world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury did, he was whipping up not so much a storm but a veritable tsunami.

His comments about gay marriage - which is outlawed in his homeland - were far more serious  than the passing reference on the subject of homosexuality and the derogatory remarks about women made by Fury which resulted in a stern reprimand to the new world heavyweight champion from the British Boxing Board of Control.

Will any of the world’s governing bodies now take action against the Pacman who is due to fight Timothy Bradley in what he says is his fistic swansong in Las Vegas on April 9?

I doubt it - nor I suspect will ticket or pay-per-view sales be affected one iota.

Pacquiao has issued a perfunctory apology, far less fulsome than Fury’s, after stating: “Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women they are worse than animals."

Already a congressman, Pacquiao is running as a candidate for the Philippines senate in May, which some believe eventually could lead to a future bid the Presidency.

The 37-year-old eight-division champion is the Philippines’ most famous athlete. He has represented Sarangani province in the Philippines’ House of Representatives since May 2010, though he has drawn criticism for seldom showing up for legislative duties.

Manny Pacquiao sparked controversy with homophobic comments
Manny Pacquiao sparked controversy with homophobic comments ©Getty Images

But has he burned his proverbial boats?

Sportswear giants Nike have been the first to jump on the anti-Pacquiao bandwagon, withdrawing their sponsorship from him.

However I find it somewhat disingenuous that Nike should take the moral high ground considering their continued backing of doping-infested athletics and in particular the twice banned US druggie sprinter Justin Gatlin.

Of course Pacquiao and Fury are not the first fighters to cause public outrage with fundamentalist opinions. Back in the sixties Muhammad Ali shocked America by declaring that “white birds fly with white birds and black birds fly with black birds.” It was deemed at the time to be racist but since then his views have softened considerably.

As it happens boxing is probably now the least racist of all sports, and it certainly does not have a problem with homophobia.

When Pacquiao and Fury spout garbage like that it is not because they are boxers, but because they are bigots.

But what perturbs me is that, like Fury’s, Pacquiao’s comments were made in a Biblical context.   

His original remark came during a television interview and he initially appeared unrepentant, writing on Instagram that he was "just telling the truth of what the Bible says".

Even in his "apology" he insisted what he said was right. “I still stand on my belief that I'm against same sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but I'm not condemning LGBT. I love you all with the love of the Lord. God Bless you all and I'm praying for you."

Personally I have no religious affiliation but some who do tell me that what he says about the teaching of the Scriptures is not actually accurate.

Punching preachers have been with us since the days of the Rev Henry Armstrong, aka Hammerin’ Hank, the only man to hold three world titles at the same time before being ordained as a Baptist minister.

The fight game seems to be littered with Born-again boxers whose constant proselytising seems more suited to the pulpit than the ring. They certainly appear to fear God more than they do their opponents.

Each to his own, but I just wish there was a little less wearing of religion on the sleeves of their dressing gowns.

Amir Khan never takes religion into the ring
Amir Khan never takes religion into the ring ©Getty Images

British cinemas have rightly decided that theirs was not the place for religious advertising and I respectfully suggest the same should apply to the boxing ring – indeed any sporting arena.

Not that this is really a new phenomenon. Sport and religion have gone hand in glove for years.

Watch the Premier League and count the huge number of players who genuflect as they run on to the pitch.

There are copious links between sport and spirituality but nowhere is this stronger than in boxing. Maybe it is because of the very nature of the sport with its inherent dangers that so many of its protagonists turn to their God.

However, I wish they would all follow example of Amir Khan, a practicing Muslim, who once told me: ”I don’t take religion in the ring with me. Religion should be private.”

Quite. I doubt I am alone in becoming weary of those few proselytising pugilists. Surely its time to stop punching Bibles and concentrate on punching noses, as the vast majority of boxers prefer to do.

Which brings me back to Coe. I know him reasonably well but have never heard him mention religion or quote anything from the Good Book.

If he were to do so I suspect it might be to paraphrase Luke 6-29. It’s something about turning the other cheek...