Seb Coe takes over at IAAF: is he the man to save athletics?

The former Olympic gold medalist and man behind London 2012 must tackle the doping crisis facing his sport

Lord Sebastian Coe
(Image credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images for IAAF)

Lord Coe has been elected president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on the eve of the World Championships in Beijing as the world of athletics reels from more doping scandals.

The two-time Olympic champion, former Tory MP and mastermind of the 2012 London Olympics, beat Sergey Bubka to the role and said it was the second biggest moment of his life after the birth of his children.

"I had the joys of Olympic competition, I had the joys of being part of a team that created something very special in London a few year ago," he said. "But this for me is the pinnacle. It is my sport, it is my passion, it is the thing I've always wanted to do."

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Reaction to his win was positive. "It's a great result for the sport," commentator Steve Cram, a former track rival of Coe, told the BBC.

USA Track and Field said it was "impressed" with Coe's "vision", "dedication" and leadership, adds the BBC. And outgoing president 82-year-old Lamine Diack of Senegal said it was a "dream come true" to pass the baton to Coe.

However, he faces many challenges in his new role.


The "most important problem in the eyes of the masses"is doping, says Ben Bloom of the Daily Telegraph. "There are simply too many drugs scandals and too many countries with inadequate anti-doping regimes that must be brought into line."

Coe has said that the IAAF cannot "promote and police" the sport at the same time and has pledged to set up an independent anti-doping agency to deal with drugs violations, which he hopes will reduce "conflicts and loopholes".


Doping scandals are "rapidly eroding faith in the sport", says the Telegraph. Many have compared the position athletics finds itself in to that which cycling faced a few year ago.

There have been calls for an in depth inquiry into recent doping claims. "Athletics looks frightened of what it may find – but there are few better placed to deal with the struggle than Coe," says Marina Hyde in The Guardian, and he must not shy away from the job of making athletics transparent.

"It is often the cover-up that is more damaging than the crime. The plain fact is that athletics may not think it has a major testing problem, but everybody else does."


"There is no denying that athletics has fallen away in popularity at a steady rate over the past couple of decades," warns the Telegraph, which adds that, "away from the athletics super powers there is little growth in the sport".

Coe has proposed plans to make athletics more popular with young people and improve funding to smaller nations.

But, as Rick Broadbent of The Times notes, everything hinges on the sport being clean.

Stars like Usain Bolt have been hailed as the saviours of track and field, "but it might actually be Coe if he can foster a will to change things", says the paper. "Coe loves athletics enough to know that it is in the throes of its biggest crisis. He says the current calendar is unsustainable and that the sport is poorly marketed, but such things require a foundation of credibility."

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