The dawn of a new era in international athletics

Sebastian-Coe-IAAF-PresidentRecent developments in the sport of athletics have left many asking themselves whether or not we are at the dawn of a new era.
Former middle distance running sensation, Sebastian Coe of Great Britain emerged victorious in the recent elections of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), defeating another former world champion athlete, Sergey Bubka of the Ukraine.
Usain Bolt showed that he continues to be on track to becoming a legend in the sport of athletics and Kenya upstaged the world in the final medal count suggesting what may well be a changing of the guard.
IAAF leadership
The IAAF was established in 1912 in Stockholm. The organisation has had a very colourful history with Italy’s Prime Nebiolo, bringing perhaps the most significant changes that have impacted the sport of athletics.
During his tenure with ended when he died in Office in the late 1990s, Nebiolo introduced the World Championships – Indoor, Outdoor, Juniors and Youths – on the track. He also introduced a number of road running events as championships.
Importantly, Nebiolo engaged a number of international sponsors who committed themselves to the organisation for extensive periods. This latter programme was similar to that which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had introduced around the period to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
It was under Nebiolo’s leadership that the member federations started receiving assistance to attend the organisation’s Congress and World Outdoor Championships.
Over the past several years however the economic fortunes of the IAAF have changed significantly and a significant proportion of the assistance that member federations once received have been dropped while others have been reduced.
Lamine Diack of Senegal, who has served as president of the IAAF following the death of Nebiolo through to the end of August 2015, has had mixed fortunes. The organisation has witnessed a number of changes and not all have been lauded as being in the best interest of the sport.
Admittedly however, Diack served at a time when the global economy was undergoing rapid changes that impacted virtually every aspect of life as we had come to know it. To some he appeared to have managed to steer the ship of the IAAF through the choppy waters of the period of his tenure enough to leave it in an acceptable state.
Others may hold a different view. To some Diack’s leadership lacked the dynamism of a Nebiolo and that the member federations were relegated to being almost distant relatives, if not outside children, in what is often described as the Athletics Family. The several small member federations that Nebiolo sought to come on board so that the IAAF can boast of being the largest international sporting body in the world have felt themselves increasingly marginalised as they watched in awe as the assistance programme fluttered around them.
Still, on average many may say that Diack did well, given the changing circumstances he had to navigate. The sport remains high profile and many have been able to enjoy meaning and lucrative careers through their participation as elite athletes.
Enter Seb Coe
Seb Coe opted to contest for the presidency of the IAAF after having served as one of the organisation’s Vice Presidents for the past four years. He brought to the contest a tremendous track record in sport.
Coe once served as a member of Parliament in the UK. He led the city of London to win the bid to host the Olympic Games of 2012. Having achieved this latter feat he then headed the Organising Committee that delivered one of the more successful editions of the prestigious global sporting spectacle.
The success of the London Olympics of 2012 was rated all the more internationally because it came in the aftermath of the Chinese coming out party that was the Olympic Games of 2008 where there seemed no shortage of money to expend on every aspect of the event. Coe delivered the London Olympics on time and in budget in the face of major global economic challenges.
Those who supported Coe’s candidacy did so on the strength of his performance as a sporting administrator and one whose commitment to the international community was evidenced in the inspirational legacy of the London Olympic Games.
Coe’s platform for the IAAF presidency of the IAAF at once spoke to continuing the rich legacy of the sport while effecting the positive changes necessitated by the times ahead.
In the pipeline there are sweeping change sin the way the organisation does business and member federations will witness an enhancement of opportunities to be involved in the charting of new courses for the international governing body while benefitting from new strategies aimed as strengthening the financial resources of the organisation.
There is a commitment to ensuring that the international athletics body becomes a very strong family in which the strong will work with the weak and the large federations with their smaller counterparts.
There is a sense of expectancy amongst the IAAF membership that Coe will deliver on his commitment to the platform he had circulated and which many accept as the sport’s latest challenge. He insists however that the platform emerged from his discourses with member federations around the world and who must see the shaping of the future of the sport as much their challenge as it is his.
Just how committed the global athletics fraternity will prove to be is anybody’s guess.
Usain Bolt
After a full year of recovering from injury Jamaica’s Usain Bolt returned to Beijing where he demolished the 100m and 200m world record at the Olympics in 2008. He returned eight years later to the same stadium and once more captured three gold medals – 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m.
Of course, at 29 he was not as prepared as he was but his performances were good enough to leave no one in doubt that he is still the best sprinter on the planet.
The world saw a maturing Usain Bolt yet still possessive of the youthful ebullience that has endeared him to the international community.
Some time ago Bolt indicated that he wanted to become a legend in the sport of his choice, athletics. Today he can boast of having attained that status. He is already the most successful athlete in the history of the sport and by all accounts the leading money earner as well.
Bolt has established new benchmarks in the sport.
There is a view held in some quarters that the international athletics fraternity has not done enough to leverage Bolt’s importance to the sport. Perhaps with Coe now at the helm of the IAAF we may well see a change in this regard.
No other track and field athlete has ever been so popular, so admired and so sought after like Usain Bolt. The world of athletics has an amazing opportunity to elevate itself further as the doyen of all sports.
Bolt is special but he is still an example to children around the world of how one can launch, develop and sustain a career in track and field athletics from very humble beginnings. This is a challenge for all peoples everywhere.
Kenya’s delight
For many years the world has watched and enjoyed the rise of Kenya as an athletics power. The country’s dominance of distance running has been challenged for the post part only by Ethiopia and occasionally by the odd country.
The Kenyans however came of age when they headed the medal count at the recently concluded World Championships in Beijing, a feat few anticipated.
In what seems to have been a changing of the guard at international track and field competitions, Kenya came away with seven gold, six silver and three bronze medals followed by Jamaica with seven gold, two silver and three bronze medals. The once dominant USA finished six of each colour medals with Great Britain next followed by Ethiopia, rounding off the top five positions.
Once powerful Germany could only finish seventh ahead of Russia and Cuba in ninth and tenth positions respectively.
Not surprisingly, Canada, which showed amazing improvement at the Pan American Games held in Toronto in July of this year, continued to show improvement by finishing seventh having claimed two gold, there silver and three bronze medals.
The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago ended up joint 22nd on the medal table.
There was little doubt that the Kenyans have a well-established plan.
For decades the Kenyan athletes have seen athletics as offering them a major career pathway out of poverty. Many of the successful athletes return home and establish themselves well in addition to ensuring that their families enjoy a better life. In this regard they provide fine examples for the youth of their country and the world in respect of the power of sport to transform lives and communities.
St Vincent and the Grenadines possesses an abundance of talent. The identification harnessing and nurturing of the talent is important.
There has to be a tremendous amount of education done to allow for our talented athletes to become successful at the regional and international levels.
It is unfortunate that as yet our coaches seem only too anxious to remain myopic. The big picture seems elusive in many instances.
The eagerness of some to lay claim almost like ownership of athletes can only lead to the demise of the athletes as we have seen time and again.
There has to be a change in the mind-set of our caches enough to all them to see more clearly the opportunities that they have to facilitate the guidance of athletes along a career pathway to success.
Changes in the sport of athletics at the international level will inevitably impact the regional and national scenes and we must be prepared to be part of the process not hindrances to it.
A united approach to the development process, the sharing of ideas and genuine commitment to the sport can facilitate major transformation in the delivery and outcomes.