International Athletics Federation (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe feels the sport will rise from the unprecedented Russian doping crisis to be among the world’s top-four alongside football, tennis and formula one in the next three years.
Coe, a double Olympic gold-medallist, said he is hopeful that the 15-point reforms agenda, which was accented to by the IAAF Special Congress this month, will help athletics get back the trust of clean athletes and the public after the doping scandal.
“The need to reform was much more on the basis of what the modern sport (athletics) required for the vision I have set. The vision is within the next three-four years, our sport should be the among the top four sports, not the top four Olympics sports,” Coe, who took charge as IAAF chief in August last year, told PTI from London in a telephonic interview.
“As you know our challenge will be with football, tennis, formula one, that is the true competition, and our competition is not with swimming and gymnastics,” he said.
Asked to review the past athletics season, Coe admitted that the Russian doping crisis which led to their track and field athletes being barred from competing in the Rio Olympics was the “underlying challenge of the year.”
“It has been a tough year and also an important year for our sport. Obviously the highlights are the successful showing by athletes in Rio Olympics where athletics re-asserted as the number one Olympic sport. We had four world championships which were of extraordinarily high standard,” said the 60-year-old Coe, who won a gold medal in 1500m in both 1980 and 1984 Olympics.
“But that does not mask us from the underlying challenge of the year, away from the competitive arena, which will need a long time to build the trust (of clean athletes and public) and that process has started with the reforms we got accented by the Special Congress,” he said.
A radical governance structure reforms package was passed by the IAAF in a Special Congress in Monaco this month, with 182 member federations voting for it out of 197 present.
The 15-point reforms package includes placing more governance power in the hands of the IAAF Executive Board, limiting the number of terms of office for President to three of four years each.
But Coe, who also served as the head of 2012 London Olympics Organising Committee, said there was no reduction in the powers enjoyed by the president even though there would be more checks and balances.
“It’s not diminishing of power of president. It’s just re-balancing. The problem was too much power was given to too few people without enough checks and balances. It’s not really the president has less powers, it’s that there are checks and balances to make sure the president for the very first time alongside the Chief Executive and General Secretary has a proper role and properly quantified set of responsibilities. But the member federations and ultimately the congress will be able to judge us,” he explained.
Explaining the rationale behind the sweeping reforms, he said, “The issue we have to deal with is very clear to me. First of all, the constitution was outdated and not relevant enough for the circumstances the modern sport has to deal with. Secondly and pre-eminently, our governance structure was not strong enough.”
Asked if he was disappointed at not getting Jamaica, an athletics power, on board, Coe, said, “I can’t answer that question. Frankly, you should ask those questions to the associations of these countries. I am very pleased that 95 per cent of the federations supported the reforms including India. I am very grateful for the great support of Adille Sumariwalla.”
Jamaica and Ukraine were among the five member federations which abstained while 10 voted against the reforms package.
Coe also confirmed that track superstar Usain Bolt, who is set to end his illustrious career next year, has accepted to play a role in the sport after his retirement.
“I have had discussions with Usain that when he decides to retire I want him to play a role within the sport. I am conscious that when he (Usain) does retire there will be many calls on him and his time. I wanted to make sure early on that some of Usain’s time can be allocated to working with the IAAF and the sport of athletics. Usain has agreed he would like to do this.”
Asked about athletics post Bolt, he said, “We need to make sure that the media, our partners, the fans, our supporters recognised that yes Usain Bolt is an outstanding, extraordinary talent but our sport has also other outstanding extraordinary talents, male and female, and we need to work even harder to make sure that we promote them in our sport.
“It is a great, global sport but we need to make it sure that there is awareness in the sporting population.”
On the short-term targets he aims to achieve for the sport, Coe said, “I want to see IAAF being a world class organisation, to be service driven. We have the responsibility to try and support the ambitions of the 214 member federations and we need to make sure that we have the right delivery mechanism in place to be able to do that.
“We need to be an organisation which is accountable and robust. The primary focus of the IAAF is that trust is rebuilt with the athletes. This means that the toughest measures possible are taken against individuals and systems that call that into question.
“Tough decisions were taken by the IAAF Council when faced with mountainous evidence about state sponsored doping in Russia. The IAAF Council’s decision to suspend the Russian Athletics Federation and uphold that suspension was not an easy decision but one that gave confidence to athletes all over the world competing in international competitions.
“We must fight for clean athletes. It is our duty and our determination. We will continue to work with Russia to reinstate their athletes as soon as we have confidence in the measures that have been taken to protect them and other athletes.”
He called upon the member federations to be innovation-driven to be able to attract more fans, especially younger ones, to the sport.
“Innovations will have to be a big part if any sport will have to grow. We introduced the world relays and in Portland (which hosted World Indoor Championships) we presented the medals not inside the stadium but outside it to attract people. We want to make the athletes the heroes and at the centre-stage,” he said.
“We need to look at new formats and look for young people to come to our sport. The federations should be innovative. For example, in Australia there will be a new event next year called Nitro Athletics which has invited Usain Bolt. They will celebrate athletics but in a slightly differently format, with music and lighting. We need to do all these things to maintain interest in athletics to the young people particularly.”
He said that the IAAF may look into the duration of World Championships (which London will host next year) as he feels that it’s too long an event.
“We can look at how we deliver the World Championships and recognising its worth. May be nine or 10 days is too long for the World Championships to be staged.”