Sebastian Coe, the two-time Olympic 1980s middle-distance champion who oversaw the hugely successful 2012 London Summer Games and has been an IAAF vice president for the past seven years, early Thursday announced he intends to run for the IAAF presidency. Coe, 58, is widely believed to be the front-runner in what is expected to be a two-man race with Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, the former pole vault star who is also an IAAF vice president and, as well, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s policy-making executive board.
"As I speak to friends and colleagues around our great sport I appreciate that we are entering a very important time for athletics," the term for track and field in wide use everywhere but the United States, "and that it is the right time to open up a discussion about the future," Coe said in a statement issued from London.
It went on: "That discussion needs to focus on how we build on the many achievements of recent years, recognize that we have new challenges in a new era and how we can tackle those challenges with vision and ambition. I believe I have something to offer to that debate and it is why I am today officially announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the IAAF."
Bubka, who has spent months quietly traveling the world, has yet to formally declare for the presidency. He is expected to do so in the coming weeks. Those close to Bubka say he connects to potential voters on a personal level and insist the race — with many months yet to go — is far from a done deal.
The election to succeed Lamine Diack of Senegal, IAAF president since 1999, is due to take place next Aug. 19 in Beijing.
Track and field sees more than 210 nations participating; its every-other-year world championships are the third-biggest spectacle in world sports, after the Summer Games and FIFA’s World Cup; when track is on at the Olympics, it is, Diack declared last week at the IAAF gala in Monaco, the “soul” and the “heart” of the Games.
Diack, 81, also said, “I soon will be transmitting my stick to somebody who will be able to carry it even better than me.”
Bubka, who will turn 51 in early December, is the 1988 gold medalist in the pole vault; he set 35 world records in the event. He has been active in sports politics for years, with the IOC for instance as a member of the athletes’ commission since 2000; he has been president of the Ukraine national Olympic committee since 2005.
Last year, Bubka ran unsuccessfully for IOC president, making it through to a second round reduced to five candidates but there coming in with the fewest number of votes, four, that saw Germany’s Thomas Bach get 49, enough to get elected.
Coe won the 1500 meters in both the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Games; he took silver in the 800 at both Olympics. He was a member of the British Parliament for five years; private secretary to William Hague, leader of the opposition, from 1997-2001; and in 2004 took over from businesswoman Barbara Cassani the London 2012 bid, seeing it in 2005 to victory over Paris.
In Monaco last week, Coe wrapped up service as head of the IAAF evaluation commission that saw Doha elected site of the 2019 world championships, over Eugene, Oregon, and Barcelona. In a first round of voting, Barcelona was eliminated; in the second round, Doha prevailed over Eugene, 15-12.
Next week, back in Monaco, the IOC meets to vote on Bach’s wide-ranging Agenda 2020 review and potential reform package.
It was far from clear that either Coe or Bubka was willing to seize the time this week — between the IAAF’s meeting in Monaco and the IOC’s assembly there in just a few days — to go public with a presidential declaration.
Tactically, Coe has thrown in, and now it seems obvious why: he is seeking not only to carry forward the momentum from the IAAF’s -- exceedingly positive -- time in Monaco but is bidding at the outset to set the agenda in the presidential campaign.
Beyond the statement, Coe also gave an interview published Thursday in the leading French daily L'Equipe.
In his statement, Coe also said, “Throughout all my sporting roles I have always put the interest of athletics first and been independent enough to do the right thing for our sport. This will be my approach in the campaign and, in full partnership with the member federations, it will be the cornerstone of my presidency if granted the great honor of being elected IAAF president.
“I will set out my detailed proposals for athletics and the IAAF when I publish my manifesto,” giving no indication when that might be.
“It will highlight the importance of our sport embracing innovation and change as we move forward. I want us to have a renewed focus on engagement with young people and a real understanding of the global landscape that is shaping the next generation of athletes and fans.
"If we are guided by these principles as we review and reform our sport then I am convinced that athletics can enter a new era with confidence and ensure a bright and exciting future."