Athletics needs more head to head contests: Coe

Athletics needs more head to head contests: Coe

India has the potential to make a mark, says IAAF chief

Athletics needs more head to head contests: Coe
Sebastian Coe’s love for India is well-known. The two-time Olympic 1500M champion and the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations has his roots in this country and he has always been keen to see his sport develop and grow in India.

The same interest was apparent as he spoke to the media after arriving here on Tuesday morning and attending the Asian Athletics Association’s Council meeting. India needed to cash in on its appetite for sport and size of its market, he said.

“Asia has the potential with about 60 per cent of the world’s young. It understands sport and we need to make sure that the young understand our sport better. China and Japan have shown the way. With its love for sport, its population, the great interest in broadcasting and commercial opportunities, India can make a mark. That is important for us,” Coe told a press conference.

In a wide-ranging interaction, he touched upon various topics but standing out was the concern for athletics as it faced challenges on several fronts, including competition from Olympic sports as well as non-Olympic sports.

 “A sport has to innovate and stay relevant,” he said, and pointed to the Indian Premier League and other Twenty20 cricket games, rugby sevens, an adapted version of golf and even the changes in the rules in hockey.

Lack of rivalries and head-to-head contests have hit athletics hard. Coe agreed that it was vital his sport had more head-to-head contests and also supported moves to rearrange timetables to encourage athletes in their attempts to feats like the 200-400 double.

“In London (World Championships), we have rearranged the timetable so that Wayde van Niekerk (the South African athlete), who is an extraordinary talent, can go for the 200-400 double. The public deserves to see such contests,” he said, criticising the managers and agents for preventing more head-to-head contests.

“The narratives in most other sports is head-to-heads. My kids get up early in the morning to watch a Nadal-Federer contest, or a Hamilton vs Vettel. The more head-to-head contests you can get, the more excitement you can bring to your sport.”

Doping scandals have tarnished the sport over the years but Coe said the situation was much better these days. “I believe that sport is much cleaner than what it was for many years,” he said. “We have the technology, the processes, more importantly, we have the will now, in vast majority of federations, in large sections of our coaching community and particularly, among clean athletes to make sure the competitions are clean and open,” he said, and stressed that the creation of the Athletes Integrity Unit will change the way the anti-doping process is approached.

The proposal to erase old world records – many of them considered to be dope-tainted -- had created a stir and Coe said it needs to be discussed by the IAAF Council before a decision could be taken. But he said it was pertinent to note that when a young athlete comes up, especially in the women’s section, she looks up and finds the records are beyond her capability, in the 100, 200, 400 or 800 metres. “That is not a good position to be in,” he said.

Coe also said athletics is the toughest sport on the planet. “At the World Championships, if you look up the roof of the stadium, you will find the flags of 200 nations. It is tougher to win in our sport which demands a long apprenticeship period,” he said, suggesting that nations need to enhance their athletics programmes in schools besides developing a sound coaching structure.

Anju George has staked a case for a medal from the Athens Olympic Games, considering that the Russian winners had all tested positive subsequently. Coe said it was up to the International Olympic Committee to decide on the matter.
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