Usain Bolt can’t be replaced in athletics, feels IAAF President Sebastian Coe | other sports | Hindustan Times
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Usain Bolt can’t be replaced in athletics, feels IAAF President Sebastian Coe

Sebastian Coe, the current IAAF President, believes that it is almost impossible to replace legendary sprinter Usain Bolt in the world of athletics.

other sports Updated: Mar 04, 2018 16:54 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Usain Bolt is an all-time legend in the world of athletics, believes IAAF President Sebastian Coe.
Usain Bolt is an all-time legend in the world of athletics, believes IAAF President Sebastian Coe.(AFP)

International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe is still the third-fastest when it comes to records set in the 800m discipline. He had set that in 1981 before Wilseon Kipketer and David Rudisha rewrote it over the years. And quite like the record, a lot has changed ever since. In an exclusive interview during the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Coe spoke about the use of Therapeutic Use Exemption, seeing two Russian athletes winning gold and a number of other factors associated with the world of athletics.

How proud do you feel as a UK citizen by seeing a championship like this in the UK?

Always very proud. I represent a global sport and I’m British and always pride when we stage events. I’m proud and always relieved that the events are well staged and a proper showcase for our sport.

Do you think Brexit, in any way, will change the UK’s chances to host events like this in the future?

I sincerely hope not. Sport is actually quite an important vehicle. Politicians may suddenly see the world in a different way. I’m actually quite pleased, that we at this very moment should be hosting 144 nations in this country.

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The first two gold medals of the championships went to Russians who are here as neutral athletes. Do you feel that the entire doping saga has affected athletics?

Yes of course, because it was a very big problem. We would not have suspended the Russian Federation; we would not have created the task force. It was a very big issue for us to deal with, but I was pleased that we have the neutral athletes here. We have a task force report in the next couple of days. The principle for me has always been very clear. Can we make sure the clean athletes are identified as clean athletes? Can we separate them from a tainted system? The very fact we have two athletes here that were neutral, is an important step.

This has been an issue for a very long time. How do you feel this can be nipped in the butt?

It’s not just an athletics problem. We’ve been dealing with this as a global challenge for many, many years. This is not new. What do I think will make a big difference is the creation of the Athletics Integrity Unit. It created independence; it removes national federations from the process which is important. And what is the objective of having a system that identifies cheats? It’s not only to penalize the cheats. It’s also to give real confidence to clean athletes that we are protecting them. Every athlete you see in that stadium, if they are lucky to get on the rostrum and get a medal they probably devoted over half their life to be there. So we have a responsibility to protect them. That’s the biggest objective I think.

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What’s your take on Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)? Is it a good thing or could it be dangerous?

If it’s abused, it’s dangerous. But we have to accept that we want athletes who have the kind of ailments that you guys might have to compete properly. The system around TUE is way tougher than it used to be two years ago. Five years ago, we had hundreds of TUE applications. I think this year we had 20-25. They are not handing them out like sweets; they are very closely and carefully monitored. But there’s a grey area where we have to make sure that there aren’t any athletes that are abusing the system. We want to create the opportunity for them to be able to do what they are naturally talented in doing and reach their potential.

How do you feel that athletics have been progressing for the lasts 25 years?

In some instances there’s been a lot of change and in some there hasn’t been enough change. Yes, records have clearly improved. But I have to be honest, my 800 m time is still the third fastest time and that was set back in 1981. Some events have developed at a better and a faster pace than others. I’m really proud to say that we now have gender balance on the field of play. There’s no event that a women can’t do, that’s important.

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There’s a generation for everything. Now when Usain Bolt have retired, how do you think athletics will go on?

If you’d been sitting here in the 70’s, you’d had the exact same question about Muhammad Ali. And you don’t replace Muhammad Ali. You don’t replace Usain Bolt. But other great boxers did come along. We know that great boxers have come through. Do they have the same aura as Muhamamd Ali? No, cause there’s never been a boxer with the same aura. So what do we need from the athletes? We need the athletes to be more accessible. We need to make sure that we are telling their stories properly. I have a working proposition that to find people to fill Usain Bolt’s shoes where the performance is the passport that gets you to the championship.

You then need promotion and that needs to be done by the federation, by us or by helping the athletes to get in the right media environment to tell their stories. It’s not because Usain Bolt has won a lot of Olympic medals or his world records that has made him to what he is. That is fantastic, but that’s not what has captured the imagination of the public around. They like the showmanship, they like the fact that he’s got a personality. We need the promotion, but we really need the athletes to allow their own personality to come through.

NOTE | The reporter is in Birmingham as part of the Young Reporter’s programme organised by AIPS in collaboration with the IAAF