Coe's Manifesto Launch: Opening Remarks
As you will know, last week I announced my candidacy for the presidency of the IAAF. And today, I am delighted to be unveiling the details of my election manifesto "growing Athletics in a new age".
Copies are with you, I hope you will take time to look through it and I will be happy to take questions on the proposals contained within it in the course of this morning.
My decision to stand for the presidency of my sport was not taken lightly. And yet, of course, on one level, it was one of the easiest decisions of my life. You see, as a young boy, running was the thing I loved beyond anything else, and from the moment I joined an athletics club in Sheffield, I was hooked for life.
It has been a journey that started on a municipal track in South Yorkshire passed through two Olympic stadiums to leading a team that delivered 33 consecutive full houses for athletics in the London 2012 stadium. I am privileged. Every day, for the bulk of my life, I have woken knowing that in some way or another, athletics would shape my day.
But nor am I rooted or hermetically sealed in the past. Although athletics is a truly global sport, and remains the Olympics' number 1 sport, I also know from those past experiences, and my current role as one of the custodians of international athletics, that it faces significant challenges, which unless addressed, will leave the future of my sport precariously placed.
If the challenge in the 20th century was to connect sport to the world, the challenge in the 21st century is to connect sport to young people. This is a particular challenge for athletics as more and more young people are drawn to other sports and entertainment. Expressed succinctly, if our product and experiences are inauthentic, we lose.
Young people will simply find other sports and activities and they are unlikely to be ours.
While there is no need for panic, our sport is universal and has untold potential – the athletics family needs to accept that it is now entering a new era. The status quo is simply not an option. This is the time for challenging orthodoxy through creativity and open discussion with every Member Federation. Each of their perspectives has true validity – and will allow us to grow our sport together, as we endeavour to understand and engage with the next generation of athletes and fans.
The detailed proposals that I am unveiling today are, in essence, a ten year vision for athletics and the IAAF. A road map, if you like, to deliver growth and vibrancy in athletics everywhere and at every level. It is aspirational, unashamedly ambitious and essential.
Of course, there is much in athletics to celebrate, protect and nourish, but there is also much that needs to change. Spectators and viewers need to be drawn in, feel a connection with what they are watching, and, crucially, know what they are watching is rooted in trust and integrity. And yes, athletics has many of these qualities, but they need to be refreshed and redefined.
As the IAAF's own work shows, we have an ageing audience raising a fundamental concern about where our next generation of spectators, viewers, competitors and coaches will come from.
So I am proposing we take a hard and honest look at ourselves and our sport. We need to know what 'great' looks like for the athletes and coaches, for our member federations, for spectators, for sponsors, for broadcasters and media. And particularly what can help us connect with young people as both fans and competitors. And here, we have to be honest with ourselves. Despite many well intentioned initiatives, we have struggled to excite young people and articulate why athletics matters to them. This is unsustainable.
There are 47 different disciplines in track and field and in reality, it can be difficult for the spectator to follow the action in a meaningful way, and even more difficult across an entire season. This is why we need to change, but in doing so, never discarding our unique and proud history.
So, we need to be more flexible in how and where we deliver and promote athletics.
I want us to look at events in new locations – expanding on the success of city centre athletics, pioneered here in the UK – make more of an impact in regions that have a real enthusiasm for certain athletic disciplines, building, for instance, on events like the recent IAAF world relay championships in the Caribbean.
Let's also explore staging more of those disciplines outside the main stadium, and using new locations for festivals of running and walking. I believe that this approach can still retain the essence of athletics, while allowing the sport to grow in a way that plays a more central role in people's lives. And I care deeply that they fall in love again with athletics.
The months ahead don't just culminate in an election, they are an opportunity to discuss and debate this agenda of renewal. A moment to be seized.
I have set out my thinking in this manifesto with four pillars driving my vision. First – Embracing change to secure a better future. Second – Decentralisation and Empowerment, in other words how we deliver the sport in a changing world. Third – Maximising commercial growth – to benefit every level of our sport, and Four – Ensuring integrity and trust in all we do.
I want this election campaign to open up this discussion, to encourage voices to be heard, and to recognise, in equal measure, that these are important moments for our sport.
Bu whatever the outcome in August, I genuinely hope these ideas provoke a new debate on these and other defining issues. Yes there are challenges, but I also know there is the spirit , will and the talent within our sport to meet them.
This election is a referendum on the future. Today, I am setting out a framework for that future.
I remain supremely optimistic that, if we are guided by these principles, as we review and reform – athletics can enter the new era with confidence. If we do this we have little to fear.
I am often asked where athletics will be in the next decade. I know the answer. It can be anywhere we want to take it. That is our challenge, that is my challenge. And that is what I am committed to.
Thank you for being here today and I look forward to your questions and thoughts.