Athletics boss Sebastian Coe wants to meet Usain Bolt in bid to revamp sport

Story highlights

  • Seb Coe wants to meet Usain Bolt
  • Believes Bolt can help revamp sport
  • Says athletes must realize they're entertainers
  • Could athletics have franchises, drafts and pop up tracks?

(CNN)Your mission Usain Bolt, if you choose to accept it, is to save athletics.

The chief of the International Association of Athletics Federations Sebastian Coe sees the eight-time Olympic champion, who sprinted into retirement earlier this year, as a major asset who still has a big part to play in marketing the sport in the next few years.
Elected IAAF president in August 2015, Coe has spent much of his time dealing with issues surrounding corruption and doping, but he now wants to pursue a major overhaul of athletics.
    He is considering a whole raft of ideas -- franchises, NFL-style drafts, player auctions and pop-up tracks -- to modernize the sport, insisting that "nothing is off the table."
    And he wants to utilize Bolt's charisma to help sell athletics to a younger audience and confirmed the pair are set to meet before Christmas to discuss "exactly what [Bolt] wants to do" going forward.
    Usain Bolt: Van Niekerk is the next big star
    Usain Bolt, 8-time Olympic gold medalist


      Usain Bolt: Van Niekerk is the next big star


    Usain Bolt: Van Niekerk is the next big star 03:09

    Muhammad Ali

    "I don't think that I've ever witnessed anybody virtually in any sport that's had that global reach," said Coe, who was speaking at the Leaders in Sport Conference at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium in London this week, referring to the Jamaican sprinter.
    "You've got to go back to Muhammad Ali really. I think Bolt's reach is extraordinary.
    "If 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, then this is going to be hugely helpful."
    Bolt hung up his spikes in August after being beaten into bronze medal position by Justin Gatlin at the World Championships in London as well as limping out of the relay event with a hamstring injury.
    It may not have been the fairytale ending so many were hoping for but Bolt's impact on world sport is unquestionable -- he won eight Olympic golds, 11 World Championships golds and still holds the 100-meter world record of 9.58 seconds.

    'We are in the entertainment business'

    Usain Bolt wins 2016 IAAF male world athlete of the year.
    The Jamaican sprinter's departure has left a "Bolt-shaped hole" for the sport to fill and Coe called on the current crop of athletes to be more like the Jamaican and "recognize that they are in the entertainment business."
    "They have to have an opinion and they have to dominate a room, they have to dominate a stadium," said Coe, who is a former middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic Champion and served as a Conservative MP for five years in the 1990s.
    "Too often I sit there, because I go to a lot of these post-race news conferences, and I'm thinking, "Are you really offering as much as you should in terms of the insight and the accessibility?
    "They've got to be interesting, they've got to have an opinion and that's what takes the sport beyond the stadium. We can't [avoid the issue] anymore. They have to reach out.
    "Sometimes there are linguistic challenges. The world media is an English-based media so we need to make sure we do the media training and encourage federations and athletes to recognize that they have all got skin in the game here."

    'I'm on the side of personal freedoms'

    New Orleans Saints players kneel at Wembley Stadium.
    In recent weeks a number of NFL stars have discovered what it means to have "skin in the game" after US President Donald Trump described players who kneel during the National Anthem to protest social injustice as "sons of bitches" and called on team owners to fire them.
    "I'm on the side of personal freedoms, always. You have to be," said Coe, who says he has no problem with athletes bringing politics to the sporting arena.
    "Sport has rarely just mirrored society. It's more often than not set its trends if you look back to Jesse Owens' stance in Berlin and the salutes in 1968," he added, referring to to John Carlos and Tommie Smith's Black Power salute at the Mexico Olympics. "It's important sport has a view.
    "Frankly, I'm not sure that most of those [NFL] players were particularly bothered [by Trump's comments]. They decided to do what they did."
    "I've never felt particularly under pressure from any political leader, even in 1979/1980," added Coe who defied United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's attempts to block British athletes from competing at the 1980 Moscow Olympics over Russia's invasion of Afghanistan.
    Sebastian Coe crosses the finish line to win 1500m gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

    'Encouraged' by Russian response

    Last month US Anti-Doping Agency Chief, Travis Tygart called on the International Olympic Committee to ban Russia from the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea, given the evidence that has emerged of a state-sponsored doping program at the 2014 Sochi Games.
    Coe's IAAF made a bold call to ban Russia ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics and, while he does not have a view on Russian participation at the Winter Olympics, he told journalists that he was encouraged by Russia's response over the last 12 months.
    USADA CEO Travis Tygart wants Russia banned from Winter Olympics.
    "We have set the criteria and if they meet the criteria, then that's when we can start looking at re-introduction," Coe said.
    "They've made positive steps. [President of the Russia Federation] Dimitri Shlyakhtin made a speech at [the IAAF Congress] which I thought was pretty candid about the challenges that they'd had and what they needed to do.
    "They weren't pleading for reinstatement but just talking about the journey they were on. And I thought that was very encouraging.
    "We have to be realistic about it, you're not going to make that shift overnight.
    "Whenever reintroduction takes place, it's not then a hands off approach. You need to make sure that monitoring is permanent and regular."

    'Why are we wedded to a 400-meter track?'

    Coe was elected IAAF President in August 2015.
    Coe has no control over the Olympics but is determined to modernize the IAAF Diamond League season, one-day events and even alter the format of the World Championships in an effort to attract new sponsors and partners to "set the sport on its way for the next 30 years."
    "Why are we wedded to a 400m track all the time? Coe questioned.
    "Why not have pop-up tracks? 300m or 200m tracks in football stadia, taking the sport where we can get people in without necessarily having to be in a championship stadium.
    "Franchises, what about having the excitement of the draft? The Indian Premier League auction? Those are the things I really want to have on the table and I don't want to take them off the table. We have to be radical."

    'We have to connect with ordinary runners'

    Millions of people around the world run in their free time, but Coe is conscious that athletics has failed to make the connection with amateurs in the way other sports have done so effectively.
    "People run," Coe said. "We have to make a closer connection with what they're doing on a Saturday morning or in a charity run.
    Runners cross Tower Bridge during the 2016 London Marathon.
    "I pad up occasionally [for a game of cricket] and, for a few delusional moments on the village green, think I'm Sachin Tendulkar," added Coe, referring to the great Indian batsman.
    "I'm not sure many people that go out and run the London Marathon think of themselves as being in the same sport as Usain Bolt or Haile Gebrselassie. We have to make that linkage."
    Usain Bolt celebrates at London 2012 Olympics
    Coe cited the success eSports has had in attracting youngsters over the last 15 years and believes it is now up to him and the athletics federations to get them back "from the virtual, into reality and on to the track."
    Over to you Usain ...