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World Athletics president Coe rejects talk of Chinese boycott

Sebastian Coe

PARIS: World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said he wants the body to become a “campaigning organization” but stressed that he sees no point in boycotting China over human rights. Speaking in his annual year-end conference call, Coe said his sport had “come out of 2021 in a strong position” and he was bullish about its immediate prospects for growth with the World Championships in the United States for the first time in 2022. “We came out of Tokyo as clearly the No. 1 sport,” he said, quoting statistics from the International Olympic Committee showing that athletics scored the biggest numbers of any sports on television, traditional print newspapers and social media.

Although he added that World Athletics was anticipating that the media model would look completely different by the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028. “A lot will change by 2028, broadcast will change with streaming. We need a broadcast strategy that will chime with what’s happening,” he said. Coe said the sport was also benefiting at grassroots level because governments were “belatedly” focusing on public health and fitness.

World Athletics was focused on “connecting athletes and athletics to big issues that matter to them such as climate change and human rights,” he said. It is striving “to become a campaigning organization,” he said. But with Shenzhen scheduled to join Shanghai on the 2022 Diamond League calendar, Coe said he did not see any reason why the events in China should be an issue despite the recent furore over tennis player Peng Shuai. “We’re pleased to be competing globally, China has a strong and current history in track and field,” he said.

‘Drawbridge’

“We have a clear and strong set of principles whether it’s human rights or sustainability,” he said before adding: “I’m philosophically opposed to sporting boycotts. “I experienced them and they tend not to achieve what they set out to achieve. “We are concerned with all athletes. But better to have dialogue than pull up the drawbridge. No other sector does that.” Coe meanwhile took a tough line on allowing Russians to compete again under their national flag, saying they needed to satisfy a World Athletics task force that they had fully followed the body’s “reintroduction plan” on controlling doping. “Russian athletes will be back in an international framework as and when the reintroduction plan is fully met,” he said. That might not happen before the World Championships in Eugene in July. “What guise Russian athletes will be in Oregon is still to be decided,” he said.

On another thorny issue, the ban on athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) in women’s races between 400 meters and a mile, Coe said World Athletics had no intention of adding events to that list. “The events that were selected were not happenstance,” he said. “They were those events that after long deliberation and scientific underpinning were the most impacted by DSD. “We are not sitting here looking at this at this very moment but we’ve always made it clear that (we would act) if other events are massively impacted or (it) compromises the fundamental integrity of women’s sports.”

He said he believed the crop of young talent meant athletics did not need another Usain Bolt to attract attention. “I’m more optimistic than I have been for a while because of the extraordinary young talent coming through,” Coe said. “We have a much broader base to our talent, not reliant on one star.” —AFP

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