As the election campaign entered its final stages, Sebastian Coe timed his kick for maximum effect with the kind of us-against-them statement designed to galvanize support in his run for the presidency of track and field’s international governing body.
Coe, a British former Conservative Party lawmaker and a member of the House of Lords, a two-time Olympic 1,500-meter champion and chief organizer of the 2012 London Olympics, is contesting the IAAF presidential election against Ukrainian pole vault great Sergei Bubka, an Olympic and six-time world championship gold medalist.
Either way, the International Association of Athletics Federations has two marquee candidates in next week’s election in Beijing to replace outgoing president Lamine Diack, who is stepping down after 16 years at the helm.
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But with the IAAF under intense criticism following media allegations that it has failed to act on evidence of widespread blood doping, the 58-year-old Coe raised the rhetoric earlier this month by describing the accusations as a ”declaration of war.”
While both candidates called for an overhaul of the way the anti-doping program is run, Coe was more forceful against critics who argued that the IAAF had been negligent in not pursuing the cases.
”It is a declaration of war on my sport,” Coe told The Associated Press after allegations by German broadcaster ARD and Britain’s The Sunday Times newspaper that one-third of medals in endurance races at the Olympics and world championships were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious blood readings. ”I take pretty grave exception to that. This, for me, is a fairly seminal moment. There is nothing in our history of competence and integrity in drug-testing that warrants this kind of attack. We should not be cowering. We should come out fighting.”
Coe, widely considered the favorite in the IAAF election, which will be held Wednesday on the eve of the world championships in Beijing, recommended an independent anti-doping agency in track and field, ”a system that removes any perception out there that there is either conflict or complicity.”
Bubka issued a statement saying a ”more proactive” approach was desperately needed.
”At present, the anti-doping system is too complex and takes too long,” Bubka said. ”It 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. This is a battle we can’t afford to lose, for the sake of athletics. Athletics is the most fundamental of all sports, and the way the world sees athletics influences the way it views all sports.”
Diack is yet to anoint a successor, but both candidates are gathering support after traversing the world for the last year attending regional meetings and championships canvassing the backing of the 214 members of the IAAF. Coe claimed the first of the African votes this week when he got the support of Ghana. Bubka reportedly added the support this week of some unexpected Asian countries including Singapore.
The winner of the election, decided by an absolute majority in the IAAF congress, will serve a four-year term.
Each released manifestos targeting increased engagement with youth and social media, more finances flowing to national federations for development, an overhaul of the calendar and an overall refreshing of the sport.
”My overriding objective is to grow athletics, to make our sport even more global and even more commercially successful,” Coe said. ”With the right approach we can increase revenues across the globe and I hope I have shown, particularly with London 2012, that I possess the drive, the energy and the skills to deliver commercial success and global reach.”
In his ”`Taking Athletics To New Heights” program, the 51-year-old Bubka, who won gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics for the Soviet Union and broke the world record 35 times in his career, said engaging the youth was a major agenda.
”It is an unfortunate fact that young people are not as engaged in our sport as they once were. While this is clearly a serious threat to the future of athletics we must also see this as an opportunity to grow,” he said. ”The roadmap to the future must be drawn with youth as its main focus.”
Despite the campaigning, the biggest issue facing the IAAF ahead of Wednesday’s election in Beijing remains the taint of doping.
The IAAF has confirmed that 28 athletes had been caught in retests of their doping samples from the 2005 and 2007 world championships but said none of the athletes will be competing in the upcoming world championships, which begin Aug. 22.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed from London.