December 03, 2014

LONDON (AP) Pitching his vision to overhaul the sport that has shaped his life, Sebastian Coe is apprehensive. Although track and field is not facing an imminent crisis, according to the IAAF presidential hopeful, it is ''precariously placed.''

Embrace youth, make events more accessible and transform the calendar or the sport's future could be in jeopardy, he believes.

''It's not a panic, it's not a crisis,'' Coe told The Associated Press on Wednesday after launching his IAAF election manifesto. ''We have challenges in engaging with young people ... we have an aging audience, we need new and young competitors.''

A key feature of Coe's proposals is the creation of a global street race circuit.

''It really does reach out to a very different and new audience,'' the two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion said. ''The center piece of our events and championships have to be in the arena but, if you look at the way we sometimes showcase the marathon and sometimes the race walks in city centers, these are things that we really do need to enhance ... our sport.''

The season has revolved around the Diamond League since 2010, but the series of stadium meets has failed to transform the sport as intended.

''This is probably the time to look at the format, probably to refresh it, maybe to look at the number of Diamond League events,'' Coe said at the London headquarters of the British Olympic Association which he chairs.

Coe's election manifesto is blunt: accepting that to many within and outside track and field, the calendar seems ''disjointed, lacks purpose, a narrative.''

''Many fans don't know when the athletics season starts, when it ends, why it seems to bounce around from the USA to Europe to Asia and back again,'' the 58-year-old Coe writes. ''It is confusing to spectators and viewers alike.''

Engaging with spectators and growing television audiences relies heavily on creating captivating duels and stars who transcend the sport. There is a clear reliance on the appeal of Usain Bolt, who took his tally of Olympic golds to six in 2012 at the London Games organized by Coe.

''It's a bit like saying in the 60s there was an overreliance on Muhammad Ali,'' Coe counters. ''It's a high-class problem to have someone of Usain Bolt's extraordinary talent. But we do need to redouble our efforts to make sure that the skills and talents and the personal odysseys of some really talented athletes are showcased.''

In his manifesto, Coe said the sport must exhibit greater ''financial transparency'' about the appearance money and prize money that top athletes receive at one-day meetings.

''The truth is that, as a sport, we do not openly speak about the significant sums that are paid in appearance money,'' he writes.

Coe, who is currently an IAAF vice president, won gold medals at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics and set 12 world records during his career in the 800 meters, 1,500 and mile. Pole vault great Sergei Bubka of Ukraine is also expected to run for IAAF president to succeed Lamine Diack, who steps down next August after holding office since 1999.

''I'm not benchmarking myself against anybody else,'' Coe said. ''This is a referendum on the future. I think my experiences over the last 40 years in track and field - from a municipal track in South Yorkshire to Olympic Stadiums and the delivery of the London Games - my understanding now of the way young people engage with the sport is something I will put forward to the sport.''

But on the day Coe launched his manifesto, his sport was engulfed in another doping scandal. Both German television channel ARD and French sports daily L'Equipe reported that Liliya Shobukhova, who won the Chicago Marathon from 2009-11 and the London race in 2010, paid the Russian athletics federation 450,000 euros ($550,000) to cover up a positive doping case.

Citing an ongoing IAAF ethics investigation, Coe restricted himself to describing them are ''clearly serious allegations.''

Coe does, however, believe the IAAF should explore creating an independent tribunal to handle doping violations committed in international competitions.


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