Coe: Usain Bolt can play a key role in the future of athletics

IAAF president discusses the sport’s reform plans after a range of scandals

Usain Bolt
Jamaican star Usain Bolt
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since becoming president of the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2015, Sebastian Coe’s main challenge has been to reform athletics.

With doping scandals and bribery claims casting doubt on the integrity of the sport, his tenure in the IAAF top job has not been an easy one.

However, says Coe says, athletics is slowly but surely cleaning up its act - and the next step is to establish a long-term growth plan for the sport.

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Before Coe's election, he unveiled his ‘Growing Athletics in a New Age’ manifesto. Today, he says one man in particular can help athletics achieve its goals.

Usain Bolt may have retired from the track - his last event was the World Championships in London in August - but he wants to work with the IAAF, and Coe is evidently keen to bring him on board.

At the time Bolt told the IAAF website: “I would like to stay involved in athletics but I’m not sure what specifically I’ll be doing.

“My agent is talking to Mr Coe to figure out in what way I can help out the sport. I’m excited about it. Track and field gave me everything I had.”

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Speaking at the Leaders in Sport summit in London today, Coe confirmed that he will be meeting with the Jamaican superstar and his team.

“We are due to meet before Christmas to discuss exactly what he wants to do,” he said. “It is also joined to the conversations we have been having in Jamaica. I met the prime minister of Jamaica when I went to watch his last race and our twin challenges are not dissimilar.

“If they can figure out how they can keep him engaged in doing all these inspirational things he’s done in Jamaica and we can figure out how we can keep him doing all the inspirational things he’s done across the global element of the sport then you’ve probably got a large way round the virtuous circle.”

When asked what role Bolt could play in the future of athletics, Coe had a very specific idea.

“It’s difficult for me to look beyond the engagement with young people,” said Coe. “I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anybody in virtually any sport who has had that global reach. You have to go back to [Muhammad] Ali.”

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Bolt, who won eight Olympic gold medals during a glittering career, will be hard to replace on the track.

“This is not simply about finding someone who can dominate for three Olympic Games,” Coe said. “It’s actually about his personality.

“There is an emphasis here for athletes to recognise we are in the entertainment industry. They have to have an opinion, they have to dominate a room and they have to dominate a stadium.

“Too often I sit there [at press conferences] post-race and think ‘are you really offering as much as you could?’ in terms of the insights and the accessibility. I think it’s really important that they do that. That’s what takes the sport beyond the stadium.”

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“Pop-up tracks” could help too, he says. “We have stadiums, we have football pitches; why not put a 200m track in? Take the sport to where you have the infrastructure.”

“My instinct is that the public want to see great racing, great competition and the surprise. That’s why the World Championships were so good. It really wasn’t scripted. We saw new faces appearing and some surprise results and some really good quality racing.”

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