Coe: Let our imag­i­na­tion run wild

The New Paper - - SPORTS -

IAAF chief calls for rad­i­cal re­view of track and field, draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the IPL and NFL

From fran­chised teams bid­ding for ath­letes to pop-up tracks in streets and foot­ball sta­di­ums to at­tract new fans.

With the sport’s big­gest star Usain Bolt re­tired, world ath­let­ics chief Se­bas­tian Coe wants a rad­i­cal re­view of track and field to en­sure it sur­vives as a spec­ta­tor sport.

“Noth­ing’s off the ta­ble now. Let our imag­i­na­tion run wild,” the two-time Olympic gold medal­list said in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with AFP as he warned the can­did dis­cus­sions will be “un­com­fort­able” for purists.

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the World Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don this year, there are fears the next edi­tion — in Qatar in 2019 — will not draw the same crowds or world­wide in­ter­est, par­tic­u­larly as Bolt hung up his spikes af­ter Lon­don.

The Ja­maican sprinter has been a shin­ing light in re­cent years for a sport in dan­ger of los­ing its appeal be­cause of the Rus­sian dop­ing scan­dal, lengthy cham­pi­onships and over-com­plex for­mats for spec­ta­tors.

“We are in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness and we have to look at it in that way,” Coe said at a meet­ing of African ath­let­ics fed­er­a­tions in the Moroc­can cap­i­tal Rabat on Wed­nes­day.

He laid out plans for a “stra- te­gic re­view” to show “what our sport will look like for the next 30 or 40 years”.

Voted pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tions in 2015, Coe led Lon­don’s suc­cess­ful bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

The for­mer mid­dle-dis­tance run­ner said track and field bosses could draw in­spi­ra­tion from cricket’s In­dian Premier League (IPL) — in which play­ers are auc­tioned and di­vided among fran­chises rep­re­sent­ing cities — or the NFL, where teams pick play­ers through a draft sys­tem.

“I think we’ve just got to al­low some re­ally open dis­cus­sion about what our sport looks like. And yes, maybe it’s cities, maybe it’s fran­chises, maybe it’s auc­tions like the IPL, maybe it’s the pick.”

Coe, who won Olympic gold medals in the 1,500m in Moscow in 1980 and Los An­ge­les in 1984, said tin­ker­ing with in­di­vid­ual track and field events would not be enough to bring about the fun­da­men­tal change that is needed.

He said his as­so­ci­a­tion was al­ready work­ing with dif­fer­ent for­mats, such as hold­ing events in the moun­tains, trail-run­ning and even park­our — or streetrun­ning — where par­tic­i­pants leap from build­ings and scale walls.

“I think there is a need for prob­a­bly a two-year deep, deep dive be­cause the risk in the past is that we have looked at dif­fer­ent el­e­ments in iso­la­tion,” he said.

“We’ve looked at one event and spent a lot of time talk­ing about one event... but we haven’t brought it to­gether.”

He said that al­though it was im­por­tant to “have the purist ar­gu­ment” and keep the sport’s multi-dis­ci­plined “phi­los­o­phy”, it can be moved away from its tra­di­tional are­nas.

“I think we need to think across the land­scape,” he said.

“What about pop-up tracks? What about hav­ing a 300m track that you put in the mid­dle of the pitch at Stam­ford Bridge (Chelsea’s sta­dium) or in a foot­ball ground in Aus­tralia?

“Does it have to be a 200m track in­doors? Street ath­let­ics, tak­ing ath­let­ics to where the peo­ple are.

“I want there to be a fer­ment of think­ing now, be­cause this is where I think we can ac­tu­ally raise our as­pi­ra­tions and our am­bi­tions.

“I think we have to have very open and can­did dis­cus­sions and some­times they are go­ing to be un­com­fort­able.”

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