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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Athletes must themselves decide the future they want for their sport following the latest doping crisis, former Olympic sprint champion Carl Lewis said on Thursday.
Athletics was rocked by a damning report in British newspaper The Sunday Times and by German broadcaster ARD/WDR at the weekend that accused the International Association of Athletics Federations of failing to investigate hundreds of what they called "suspicious" drug tests between 2001 and 2012.
The report raised new questions about the sport just weeks before the Aug. 22-30 world championships in Beijing.
"The future of athleticism depends on the athletes," Lewis told Reuters ahead of the inauguration of the NACAC athletics championships in Costa Rica. "At the end of the day, the sport is going to be as good as the athletes want.
"If they really want changes, they want the sport to grow, then they are the ones that have to stand up and work with the powers to make sure it happens."
Lewis, who raced during an era that produced a number of high profile positive tests that tarnished the entire sport, was awarded the 100m gold medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 after Canada's Ben Johnson was stripped of the title for doping.
Lewis, who also won the 100m and 200m at Los Angeles in 1984 and ended with four long jump golds amongst his nine Olympic titles, said he was not interested in dwelling on the Johnson case.
"I look at that like high school," the 54-year-old said. "It's like asking how did you do in math class, what was your grade? It's like 30 years ago."
But Lewis said athletics had not been the same since he ended his career the year after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
"I retired in 1997, and the sport has been in a state of decline since then. No one has been able to stop that decline ... no athlete, no administrators.
"So I hope that when we get a new (IAAF) president, the athletes can stand and reach out to the administrators and the federations, and do all we can to make our sport grow."
Double Olympic 1500m champion Sebastian Coe and former pole-vault king Sergey Bubka are competing for the IAAF job.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury