World Athletics President Sebastian Coe believes that track and field are well on course to becoming one of the top-four global sports in the next few years on the back of a slew of “innovations” affected this year and improved financial security.
Taking stock of the year, which saw the successful hosting of the World Championships in Doha and the re-branding of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) as World Athletics, Coe promised to ring in more changes in the coming years.
“It has been an excellent year, a year of innovations. We have seen a very successful World Championship in Doha and a better year financially also. I am pleased with the progress of our sport,” Coe, who was re-elected for a second term this year, told PTI in an exclusive interview from London.
“For the first time, our sport has its own production. We have increased the number of cameras covering the World Championships, covering more angles, bringing athletes closer to fans. There will be more changes (in the next few years). As a sport, we need to be a disruptor and make changes to attract young people around the world,” he added.
Coe’s assertion comes amid unabated doping controversies in the sport, including the freezing of reinstatement process for the Russian Federation for further “serious anti-doping breaches”, the banning of disgraced coach Alberto Salazar who worked with British distance running great Mo Farah from 2011 to 2017 for doping violations and the uproar generated by world 100m champion American Christian Coleman’s missed tests.
The 63-year-old Briton said the mixed 4x400m relay, which was introduced during the World Relay and made its debut in the World Championships, has “captured the imagination of the fans”.
The World Athletics also announced introduction of Continental Tour, which will replace World Challenge events as the second tier of competition under the Diamond League while four events of triple jump, discus, 200 metres and 3,000m steeplechase will have the senior status in the new format.
The double Olympic 1500m gold-medallist said his ambition of athletics becoming a top-four global sport in the near future will be realised soon.
“One of the ambitions which I set when I became president was that in the next few years, athletics should become one of the top four sports in the world. At that time, athletics was at about ninth. Now we are at fifth,” said Coe, who took charge as head of the world body in 2015.
“There are three sports, tennis, swimming and triathlon, which are all within one percentage of athletics. I believe we are absolutely moving towards achieving that ambition.”
Asked about the yardstick to determine comparative ranking of various sports, he said, “We can measure around sponsorships, around accessibility, media, newspaper, online and broadcast coverage like that.
“For example, we now have three athletes in the top 50 most recognisable sportspersons in the world. We have one athlete in top 10.
“Moreover, the most important thing is the establishment of so many young talented athletes who are in top 10 in their respective events at the age of 20. That is a very good position to be in.”
Talking about the financial well-being of his organization which governs the blue-riband sport in Olympics, he said, “…it is a much better year.
“We attracted the biggest single sponsorship deal in athletics with the Chinese conglomerate (Wanda Group) coming in for Diamond League (for 10 years from 2020). That is a good sign. Not only for security but for faster changes in schedule next year.”
Coe also termed the re-branding of the organization as an important milestone. “World Athletics is much more explained (with the new name) and there is a clear understanding of what we do,” said Coe and described the Doha World Championships as the best ever in terms of the quality of competition. “It was a fantastic World Championships. If you look statistically, the performance of the athletes in this World Championships has never been of a higher quality. In terms of athletes’ performance, they were the best,” he added.
Asked if he holds the same view with regards to the organizational aspect of the Doha World Championships, he said, “There would be other judgments, some would say Tokyo 1991, Stuttgart 1993 and even the first one in Helsinki (1983). But purely, in terms of athletes’ performance, we have to say it (Doha) is the best ever. It is the opinion of the athletes themselves and of the statisticians.
“In the first few days there were not many people turning up. But after that there were full stadiums The quality of medical services were excellent and no athlete suffered heat stroke. We were happy we could beat the heat challenge.”