LONDON (AP) Creating an independent anti-doping agency in athletics would help combat allegations that the governing body is not doing enough to weed out drug cheats or is complicit in the sport's doping problems, IAAF presidential candidate Sebastian Coe said Wednesday.
''We need a system that removes any perception out there that there is either conflict or complicity,'' said Coe, who again defended the IAAF against recent media allegations that it has failed to act on evidence of widespread blood doping in the sport.
In a conference call with four international news agency reporters, Coe also said athletes should not feel ''bullied'' into releasing their private blood-testing data, and that U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin should be treated with ''respect'' like other eligible athletes at the upcoming world championships despite a previous doping ban.
Coe, the British former two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion, is competing against Ukrainian pole vault great Sergei Bubka to succeed Lamine Diack as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations. The election will be held Aug. 19 in Beijing on the eve of the worlds.
The election comes against the backdrop of allegations by German broadcaster ARD and The Sunday Times newspaper in Britain that one-third of medals in endurance races at the Olympics and world championships were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious blood readings.
The reports were based on analysis of thousands of leaked blood test results from an IAAF database covering the period from 2001 to 2012, and claimed the IAAF had been negligent in not pursuing the cases.
Coe stood by his comment, made in an Associated Press interview last week, that the accusations amounted to a ''declaration of war'' against his sport.
''It's about defending the accusation that in some way our sport has, at best, been sitting on its hands, and, at worst, complicit in our activities and our judgments, and that is just not the case,'' he said Wednesday.
Months before the latest allegations, Coe proposed the IAAF set up an independent drug-testing body that would speed up the handling of doping cases and remove any impression of conflict of interest.
''It is really important we close down at every opportunity the perception that in some way what we are doing is mired in conflict,'' he said. ''There is no argument about how samples are taken, no argument about the interpretation of those samples.''
Coe said an independent body would help relieve the ''onerous burden'' on national federations involved in costly and time-consuming litigation. He said he would increase the pool of athletes tested in every discipline from the top 10 to the top 20.
Michael Ashenden, one of the two Australian drug-testing scientists who analyzed the blood samples for ARD and The Sunday Times, wrote an open letter to Coe on Wednesday saying the IAAF should implement a ''no-start rule'' to keep athletes out of competition for a certain period of time if their blood values are deemed to be too high.
''I was not in favor of that approach when it was first put to us a few years ago, probably by the same guy,'' Coe said Wednesday. ''I think there is an inherent risk in that. You cannot interpret one reading and extrapolate from it a positive. I thought it created more problems than it actually solved.''
Some British athletes, including two-time Olympic distance champion Mo Farah, have decided to publish their blood data to prove they are clean. Coe cautioned against that approach.
''I would not want athletes to feel that they were being pressurized or bullied into putting out private medical background and data that could be misinterpreted as one-off readings,'' he said. ''I would hate them to feel they are under pressure to do this because if they don't there is somehow an assumption they are guilty.''
Coe has been critical in the past of Gatlin, who won the 100 meters at the 2004 Athens Olympics but served a four-year ban from 2006-2010 after testing positive for testosterone. Gatlin has the fastest time this year (9.74 seconds) and is a favorite for the world title in Beijing, along with Usain Bolt.
Coe, who has long favored life bans for doping, said Gatlin should not be ostracized.
''If you are saying to me would I rather not have athletes that have served bans competing in major championships, the answer is probably yes,'' Coe said. ''But he is eligible to compete and he should be given the respect as a competitor who is eligible to compete.''