PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Winning gold medals will prove easier than winning back fan trust, admitted IAAF chief Sebastian Coe as he prepared to open the world indoor athletics championships on Thursday.
Bathed in brilliant sunshine while speaking to an enthusiastic crowd packed into Pioneer Courthouse Square, the International Association of Athletics Federations president could not escape the doping storm swirling around the sport and pleaded for patience as reforms are being implemented.
“We’re not going to return to trust overnight, it is not a straight forward equation. You don’t stick $10 in the slot machine and suddenly trust emerges in the tray,” Coe told reporters following the presentation.
”This will take a long time. We cannot demand trust. It is not going to just return because people suddenly think we have got reforms in place but we do need to go through that process.
“You can’t just sit there and say, ‘Well it’s down to one person.’ Everyone has to make that journey together.”
The road to recovery runs through Portland which will host the largest track and field competition of the year outside of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
More than 600 athletes from 150 countries will take part in the March 17-20 meeting but after a string of doping scandals there is concern that fans will be unable to trust that medal winners did so without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.
Russia, which traditionally battles with the United States to be the sport’s dominant force, will not pose a threat in Portland having been banned from international competition by the IAAF after a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation uncovered evidence of what it termed state sponsored doping.
”I sincerely hope so,“ said Coe, when asked if the fans can have confidence in the results. ”I think the very fact they are coming in tells me that there is a strong loyalty to our sport.
“This is an important staging post in the athletics season; it is an important part of our road to recovery.”
The Portland championships will not only give the IAAF a chance to rebuild confidence but provide a boost for athletics in the United States, where it remains a niche sport despite being the dominant nation.
Looking to bring in younger fans, Portland organizers have made some cosmetic changes that will see the championships feature rock style introductions and plenty of rock and roll music.
“I think some may not embrace the changes that will be made here but, for me, I think it is time to really do some cool things,” said Vin Lananna, head of the Portland organizing committee.
“The sport needs innovation. It needs rejuvenation. It needs a reconstruction, as Seb mentioned, and I am glad we could be the first one to do it.”
Additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes