Sebastian Coe calls on athletes to emulate Usain Bolt to save their sport

'They have to have an opinion and dominate a room... it's important!' Says Coe. Sprinter Usain Bolt's retirement has left a gaping hole in the sport's popularity.
08 October 2017
by:   Daily Mail

Sebastian Coe insists athletes have to recognise they are in the entertainment business and start displaying a personality if they want to replace Usain Bolt. Few sportspeople have illuminated athletics like the eight-time Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter and his retirement after the World Championships in London in August has left a gaping hole in the sport.

Coe, the International Association of Athletics Federations president, is concerned that not enough athletes appreciate their duty to entertain spectators beyond competition in a damning assessment of them.

'This is not just about finding somebody who is going to dominate sprinting for three Olympic Games and break world records,' Coe, 61, said. 'It's actually about his personality.

'I think there's an emphasis here for athletes to recognise that we're in the entertainment business. They have to have an opinion, they have to dominate a room.

'Too often I sit there, because I go to a lot of these conferences post race, and I'm thinking, "Are you really offering as much as you should in terms of the insights and the accessibility?" I think it's really important they do that.

'Sometimes you'll sit there and go, "not sure I quite expected that response". But on balance they have to be interesting, they have to have an opinion.

'That's what takes the sport beyond the stadium and we can't [ignore] this anymore, they have to reach out.

'We have to make sure that where we possibly can, and sometimes there are linguistic challenges, the world's media is an English language based media, so we have to make sure we're doing the media training and encouraging the federations and athletes to recognise that they all have [responsibility] in the game here.'

Jamaican Bolt, 30, is in talks with the IAAF about how he can continue working in the sport. They are due to meet before Christmas to discuss specifics about his role, but Coe is keen for him to continue marketing athletics to younger generations.

Speaking at the Leaders in Sports summit, Coe said: 'It's difficult for me to look beyond engagement with young people. I don't think I've ever witnessed anybody in virtually any sport that's had that global reach. You've got to go back to Ali.

'His reach is extraordinary and young people are where we have to be. He can help us engage with young people and talk about the things that matter and let them believe that it's a sport for them. I think this is going to be hugely helpful.'

Coe also defended sportspeople's right to protest, following American President Donald Trump's criticism of NFL players who have taken a knee during the US national anthem. Trump referred to the players as 'sons of bitches' and said they should be fired.

Quarterback Colin Kanepernick began the protest, against racial injustice and police brutality, in 2016, but many more players have joined in since Trump's comments.

'[I believe in] personal freedoms, always,' Coe said. 'Sport has rarely just mirrored society, it has more often than not set its trends. If you look back to the Jesse Owens stance in Berlin, the salutes in 1968. It's important sport has a view.

'Sport will have a view. Sometimes it's uncomfortable but we all have an individual view and that is what was expressed.'

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