Champions go head-to-head to lead sport in crisis

The doping allegations that have rocked the sport in the run-up to the 15th world championships could not fail to be a campaign issue as the two former Olympic champions go head-to-head to replace octogenarian Lamine Diack.

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It is, however, by no means the only issue engaging the 214 national federations who will vote to decide which of the two track and field greats will lead the sport after 16 years under the guidance of the Senegalese.

Diack said on Monday that he was confident of the future of the IAAF under either of the “bona fide sons of the sport” after the “foundation” he had laid.

The manifestoes of the two candidates to replace him, however, suggest athletics is still struggling for profile and the cash that goes with it outside the quadrennial Summer Olympics.

Both Bubka and Coe have plans to promote the sport better, generate more revenue from sponsorship, coordinate the top level of competition into a more immediately understandable and saleable product as well as to attract a younger audience.

Coe would certainly have been talking to delegates about his role in successfully delivering the London Olympics, while Bubka can point to his stewardship of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee to illustrate his leadership credentials.

Both showed fierce competitiveness during their athletics careers — Bubka as the most dominant pole vaulter of the modern era and Coe as a champion middle distance runner — so it would be no surprise if the vote was very close.

It seems unlikely that the issue of doping will prove decisive.

Coe launched a passionate defence of the IAAF against what he described as a “declaration of war” on his sport after allegations from German broadcaster ARD/WRD and the Sunday Times that blood doping was rampant in athletics.

Bubka has also pointed to the investment the IAAF has made in the fight against doping and the many ways in which they have led the way in weeding out drug cheats.

Coe is committed to moving towards establishing an independent anti-doping authority, while Bubka favours working with the existing World Anti-Doping Agency to take the battle to those athletes who use banned substances.

Englishman Coe, who will offer each federation an annual grant of $25,000 if he wins, has garnered more public declarations of support but his Ukrainian rival on Monday said he was confident of victory.

And while the issue of doping and the public relations crisis it has plunged the sport into over the last few weeks might not decide the election, dealing with it will be the first major task the successful candidate must undertake.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)