Athletics must change to draw audiences today: Coe

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt needs more rivalries at the highest level to get viewers excited about athletics again, according to IAAF president Sebastian Coe.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt needs more rivalries at the highest level to get viewers excited about athletics again, according to IAAF president Sebastian Coe. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Athletics needs more head-to-head rivalries to reach younger fans who have switched off from a sport that has become boring, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Sebastian Coe said.

The sport had been "irreparably damaged" by corruption and doping scandals that have overshadowed the early months of his tenure, he added in a BBC programme broadcasted on Saturday entitled "Can Seb Coe Save Athletics?"

Just as important as regaining trust was revamping a schedule with no top-quality track-and-field action to watch for most of the year, he said.

"There isn't enough athletics, we kid ourselves but there is not enough," the former Olympic champion said. "We go from September through to May where frankly there is not much to be talking about or writing about; we have to remedy that.

"We have to extend the season into climates where you can compete and we have to develop those markets and make sure the athletes go head to head much more often."

While tennis enjoys rivalries like those between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and football has Barcelona and Bayern Munich vying for superiority, athletics struggles for the same appeal.

Coe himself enjoyed a fierce rivalry on the track with fellow Briton Steve Ovett in the early 1980s and their races over 800m and 1,500m generated huge crowds and television audiences.

Finding more Usain Bolts would help but athletics is not a conveyor belt, Coe said, adding that the top names in the sport's various disciplines needed to be more visible on the track and also on social media, an area he said athletics was bad at.

"We have agents and managers who at the start of the season are saying, 'Our guy is going to have a quiet year this year.' It's like Barcelona selling season tickets and saying Lionel Messi will only play one in every three or four games," the Briton said.

"Usain Bolt is a genius but what we have to do at the IAAF is to make sure people know as much and are excited about the athletes like (New Zealand shot-putter) Valerie Adams who are extraordinary athletes too."

The format of the world championships, to be held in London next year, needed to change, he said.

"Has what we are watching changed dramatically since we were competing? Yes, in little ways," he said.

"But people were prepared back in 1983 to sit through nine or 10 days of a world championships. They are not going to do that now.

"We have to be realistic. Will we have a world championships format that is shorter? No, not straight away. Will we have that in five years? We have to. It's about survival and doing some really radical things."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Athletics must change to draw audiences today: Coe'. Print Edition | Subscribe