The Inside Track

Athletics is on the brink of new leadership for the first time in 16 years, with two Olympic and athletic legends – Sebastian Coe and Sergey Bubka – facing off in the battle to succeed Lamine Diack as president of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations). We asked industry insiders who is odds on to win the sport’s biggest race.

Having brokedn more than 40 world records between them in their respective athletic careers, Sebastian Coe and Sergey Bubka are used to making the impossible, possible.

However, the challenge that awaits whoever is victorious in next month’s IAAF presidential election is greater anything either of them have faced before: to rid their sport from doping.

It will be interesting to see who will play dirty first

While history suggests it’s a war that can’t be won, the IAAF’S critics have lambasted their anti-doping efforts as mediocre at best, with two major allegations in the last eight months. First up was the German TV documentary last December that alleged wide-scale doping in Russia, and even implied the IAAF was involved.

Then came the allegations in the UK last month regarding the methods of trainer Alberto Salazar, linked to some of the sport’s biggest stars such as London 2012 gold medallist Mo Farah.

Coe and Bubka have been on the campaign trail since last September trying to convince the IAAF’s member federations (MF) that they can lead the sport out of the latest scandal, while also standing its ground in the face of the IOC (International Olympic Committee)’s threat to reduce the number of athletics disciplines in future Olympics.

“My head tells me Coe has the better chance,” a MF executive insider told SportBusiness International. “He is still riding the London 2012 ticket, and we need someone who can come in with a bit of charisma and remind everyone what the IAAF is. There is a lot to fight for with athletics right now, and we need a leader, especially if the IOC try and cut out events like triple jump from the Olympics.

“The only thing Coe has against him is that there are plenty of people out there asking questions about all his different boards and roles that he’s signed up for. He’s got more businesses on the go than Donald Trump, so if he got the presidency, would he be fully focused on the role?”

On the UK Parliament website Coe is credited with a number of roles, ranging from special adviser to Nike, consultant to Chelsea FC, Chairman of Chime Sports Entertainment with multiple speaking engagements in between.
In an attempt to make everyone concentrate on the job at hand, Coe recruited Vero Communications to help with his SEBCOE2015 bid launch last year.

High Standards

Bubka is not just in the race to make up the numbers, and many believe he can take the voting down to the wire at next month’s Congress in Beijing.

The Ukrainian is no shrinking violet. Indeed the biography on his own website begins with – “The son of a Red Army praporshik, Bubka almost drowned at the age of four when he fell into a barrel of water used for salting cabbage”.
So he can be counted on to be up for the challenge.

“I firmly believe this will come down to who is the most cut-throat in this race,” our insider added. “They are both gentlemen and hugely respect each other – at least in public – so it
will be interesting to see who will play dirty first.

“It’s difficult to know which way it will go, but the fact that Bubka said he would accept a vice-presidency role if he missed out on the main vote, is very telling for me. Coe won’t, and that could be the difference between the two.”

Jason Henderson took the post of editor of Athletics Weekly, the oldest athletics magazine in Europe, shortly after Lamine Diack became president of the IAAF in 1999. He travels around the world covering the major events and speaks to the sport’s athletes and coaches to get an insight on the presidential race.

“You have to remember that these are two gentlemen who have an enormous amount of respect for each other,” he says. “I think people within athletics would be happy if either of them got the job.

“Coe showed with London 2012 that he can get things done. The feeling within the sport is that he could probably do the same with the IAAF,” he says.

“Diack has been in the job for a long time and I think most people within the sport would like to see a fresher face at the top.”

PROFILE: Lord Sebastian Coe
Born: September 29, 1956, Hammersmith, London

Athletic achievements: A middle-distance runner who won four Olympic medals, including consecutive golds in the 1500m event at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles, respectively. As part of the British trio including Steve Cram and Steve Ovett who dominated middle-distance running in the 1980s, he once broke three track world records in the space of 41 days.

Sports administration CV: After retiring from athletics, the Loughbrough University graduate moved into politics during the 1990s for the Conservative party. He returned to the sporting landscape in 2004 as an ambassador for London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, playing a pivotal at the final presentation in Singapore that won the bid in 2005. As well as chairing LOCOG (London’s Olympic Organising Committee) to one of the most successful Games of the modern era, he has also been a vice-chairman for the IAAF since 2007, and became chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA) in 2012 and will be representing ANOC (Association of National Olympic Committees) on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Coordination Commission.

Manifesto pledges: Coe’s Growing Athletics In A New Age manifesto is based on four key pillars; embracing change, decentralisation, commercial growth and integrity.
The specifics range from the political (promising member federations – and next month’s voters – more power, the functional (reform world athletics’ “disjointed” calendar), strategic (new IAAF marketing division to target young people) and dubious (to give ‘serious consideration’ to an IAAF Street Athletics event).

Born: December 4, 1963, Luhansk, Ukraine

Athletic achievements: A gold-medal winning pole vaulter at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, Bubka went on to compete at the Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympics as well. Other titles include 10 World Championship golds and named one of the most successful athletes of all time after breaking the world record for pole vault 35 times.

Sports administration CV: President of Ukraine’s national Olympic committee (NOC) since 2005, he has implemented a number of new initiatives to improve administration across the country, including staff based in all of the nation’s 27 regions. Bubka first got involved with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1996 when he was elected as a Member of the Athletes’ Commission, providing input into the governance of sport from the perspective of an active athlete. He has involved with the IAAF since 2001 and has served as a vice-president since 2007.

Manifesto pledges: Bubka’s Taking Athletics To New Heights manifesto is built around eight cornerstones: legacy, serving athletics’ community, improving IOC (International Olympic Committee) relations, transforming athletics for the modern era, integrity, commercial growth, education and driving social change. Reading between the lines, the IOC pillar is interesting as athletics remains under threat of having its number of disciplines cropped as part of Thomas Bach’s Agenda 2020 proposal to increase the number of sports at the next Olympic Games. Bubka suggests he will be involved in the newly-formed Olympic TV Channel to ensure Athletics is represented, and to “make the best of the IOC Solidarity Program and ensure that the IAAF and MFs benefit from it”.


  • The election for the new IAAF president will take place on August 19, 2015, at the IAAF Congress in Beijing, China.
  • The 214 national member federations (MF) which make up the IAAF have the right to vote. One vote per MF.
  • The vote for the new president will take place first, followed by the election of the four vice-presidents.
  • Elections shall require an absolute majority on the first round, and a simple majority on the second round.
  • Any unsuccessful candidate for any position may, if also nominated, be included in a subsequent election for any other position

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