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Bubka and Coe go head-to-head to lead sport in crisis

Bubka and Coe go head-to-head  to lead sport in crisis

BEIJING: Sergey Bubka and Sebastian Coe were pressing the flesh among International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Congress delegates on Tuesday in a final push for votes ahead of Wednesday’s election for the next president of the governing body of athletics.

The doping allegations that have rocked the sport in the run-up to the 15th world championships could not fail to be a campaign issue as the two former Olympic champions go head-to-head to replace octogenarian Lamine Diack.

It is, however, by no means the only issue engaging the 214 national federations who will vote to decide which of the two track and field greats will lead the sport after 16 years under the guidance of the Senegalese.

Diack said on Monday that he was confident of the future of the IAAF under either of the “bona fide sons of the sport” after the “foundation” he had laid.

“The IAAF meeting heralds the arrival of a new president who has the task to build the future of our sport,” Diack said.

“I am all the more confident of what we have in store as neither of the candidates will find themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

“I have laid the foundations for the future of the IAAF with our two great champions — whoever the IAAF athletics family elects, he will be a bona fide son of our sport.”

The manifestoes of the two candidates to replace him, however, suggest athletics is still struggling for profile and the cash that goes with it outside the quadrennial Summer Olympics.

Both Bubka and Coe have plans to promote the sport better, generate more revenue from sponsorship, coordinate the top level of competition into a more immediately understandable and saleable product as well as to attract a younger audience.

Coe would certainly have been talking to delegates about his role in successfully delivering the London Olympics, while Bubka can point to his stewardship of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee to illustrate his leadership credentials.

Both showed fierce competitiveness during their athletics careers — Bubka as the most dominant pole vaulter of the modern era and Coe as a champion middle distance runner — so it would be no surprise if the vote was very close.

It seems unlikely that the issue of doping will prove decisive.

Coe launched a passionate defence of the IAAF against what he described as a “declaration of war” on his sport after allegations from German broadcaster ARD/WRD and the Sunday Times that blood doping was rampant in athletics.

Bubka has also pointed to the investment the IAAF has made in the fight against doping and the many ways in which they have led the way in weeding out drug cheats.

Coe has long campaigned for increasing the resources “in the battle for our sport’s integrity,” saying an external, fully independent anti-doping tribunal is a must.

“We also need to dramatically close the gap between a positive test and the relevant sanction,” the British running great said. “We must also invest significantly to ensure other ethical concerns such as gambling, and the complex issue of changes of nationality of athletes and age cheating are properly considered and resolved.”

Coe also has promised to give the newly created IAAF Ethics Commission all the tools necessary to make it the leading Olympic federation “in terms of integrity.”

Bubka believes the anti-doping system is too complex and “needs to be simplified to become faster and more efficient.”

“It is clear that we need more people working at the IAAF to tackle the biggest challenge our sport faces — identifying doping cheats and protecting clean athletes,” the Ukrainian said. “This is a battle we can’t afford to lose.”

Englishman Coe, who will offer each federation an annual grant of $25,000 if he wins, has garnered more public declarations of support but his Ukrainian rival on Monday said he was confident of victory.

And while the issue of doping and the public relations crisis it has plunged the sport into over the last few weeks might not decide the election, dealing with it will be the first major task the successful candidate must undertake.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2015

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