By Karolos Grohmann
AARHUS, Denmark (Reuters) - Former senior World Anti-Doping Agency official David Howman was appointed on Wednesday as head of the newly established Athletics Integrity Unit to battle doping and corruption amid a drop in the sport's popularity.
International athletics federation (IAAF) President Seb Coe said Howman, a lawyer who was director general at WADA for 13 years until 2016, was the perfect choice to chair the AIU.
The AIU takes over from the IAAF’s former anti-doping department and will manage testing, intelligence gathering and investigations among other things.
It will also address issues of bribery, corruption, betting and the manipulation of competition results in athletics, the flagship sport of the Olympics.
"The AIU is all about the athlete. It is our responsibility to create the right framework for everyone to succeed," Coe said.
"I am therefore delighted that we have attracted someone of the calibre and experience of David Howman as chairperson, as we set out to create a place where athletes can understand the rules and gain knowledge, confidence and experience."
Coe is hoping to reform the IAAF following the departure of his predecessor Lamine Diack in 2015, who is the subject of an ongoing French investigation into corruption and embezzlement.
He passed sweeping reforms late last year, including the establishment of the AIU.
"I want athletics to be on every observable metric a top four sport in the next four years," Coe, a former Olympic track and field champion, said at an international sports convention.
The IAAF still has many unresolved issues, however, and has triggered the wrath of Russia after it banned its athletics team from competing at last year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics over the country's huge doping scandal.
The Russians are also likely to miss the world athletics championships in London in August.
IAAF Council member Frank Fredericks stepped aside in March pending the results of an ethics investigation looking into allegations of payments he received from a now-banned athletics official before the 2016 Olympics was awarded to Rio de Janeiro.
Asked whether he expected more scandals to hit his sport, Coe said: "I honestly don't know."
"The sport is significantly more resilient than it was a year ago," he said. "Whatever challenges we are confronted with we have to have systems in place so that we can deal with them."
The IAAF said this week it had suffered a cyber attack by suspected Russian hackers who had targeted information concerning applications by athletes for Therapeutic Use Exemptions.
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)