BEIJING (Reuters) - Although the battle against doping has dominated the headlines in recent weeks, the newly elected IAAF president Sebastian Coe has outlined a raft of other challenges he says the sport of athletics needs to confront.
These include attracting new sponsors, empowering federations with the resources to develop high quality athletes and tweaking a far-flung schedule that he said can be confusing, even to people within the sport.
“We always have to remember that our product is athletics but our business is entertainment,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said in his first press conference after Wednesday’s election win.
A businessman, politician and sports administrator who heading up the organization of the 2012 London Olympics, the 58-year-old Coe is equally at home in the corporate world as he is mixing with athletes and officials at the track.
He said creating new fans of the sport would be paramount in a world where many youths are becoming captivated by football and electronic games.
“We have to make sure we engage with young people, that is the challenge,” said Coe, who joined an athletics club when he was 11.
Coe said he was now better equipped than ever to understand the needs of the sport after flying more than 700,000 kilometers around the world to canvas support for his election bid among the sports federations.
“I was sitting talking to federation presidents who, out of their own disposable income, are paying for pots of paint to mark the track to maintain a primary school championship in one continent,” he recalled
“Then taking a flight and talking about a completely different set of challenges somewhere else. That’s the beauty of the sport.
“My duty is to make sure that sport moves ahead at roughly the same pace, giving equal opportunity to meet the challenges, and the ambitions and dreams of their athletes.”
To accomplish the task, he has promised to give his full attention to the management and direction of the International Association of Athletics Federations and work closely with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
He proudly maintains that athletics is the number one sport in the Olympic movement, even though the distribution of Olympic revenues to international federations has seen swimming and gymnastics join track and field at the top tier.
Coe also vowed to fight any moves to cull athletics events from the Olympic program and, as part of his election promises, he said he would allocate $200,000 to each of the more than 200 national athletics federation, every four years.
“This has been a very, very long, hard tough campaign,” he said, “But it has given sport chance to pause for breath, to review itself, renew itself, think about what the next 30 or 40 years look like.”
But the item at the top of his to-do list, is restoring credibility and trust in the sport, which he said will include establishing an independent anti-doping agency to curb any cheating.
“Everything you do in the sport is underpinned by trust,” he said.
Reporting by Gene Cherry; Editing by Julian Linden