IN MONTE CARLO, MONACO
Sebastian Coe on Saturday presided over World Athletics’ first annual awards ceremony since the global track and field body rebranded, with the Briton maintaining his steady streamlining of operations at the organisation’s Monaco headquarters.
Freshly-elected for a second four-year term in Doha on the sidelines of the World Championships that ended last month, the middle distance legend maintained his relentless push to steer World Athletics safely out of the woods following 11 years of mismanagement under the watch of beleaguered Senegalese Lamine Diack.
Diack, 86, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (now World Athletics) from 1999 to 2015 is under house arrest in Paris and faces corruption charges along with his 54-year-old son Papa Massata, with the trial scheduled to start on January 13.
The two have been accused of, inter alia, organised money laundering and aiding the receiving of bribes.
Riding on his pre-election pledges, Coe, winner of four Olympic middle distance medals, has massively scaled down operations at the World Athletics headquarters, disbanding the tens of commissions and revolving his new management model around athletes, competition, development and governance.
“The next phase is about growth,” World Athletics’ chief executive officer, Briton Jon Ridgeon, said at the weekend during the final meeting of the now disbanded Press and Media Operations Advisory Group.
“Competition will be core as we need to create the best possible stage,” Ridgeon explained.
“Maximising appeal to fans, partnerships and commercial development are key and we need to leave a much more powerful legacy after the World Championships.”
However, Kenya and Ethiopia have been caught by stray bullets from Coe’s restructuring with the 5,000 metres and 3,000 metres steeplechase races struck off the Diamond League series’ signature events programme.
Ridgeon explained this is a result of a survey and based on demands of a “fast-paced” television menu.
“The fact that we had no sponsors (for the Diamond League) is a hell of an indictment,” Ridgeon explained. “Broadcast figures and stadium attendances have been declining. The Diamond League is a good product but sponsors and broadcasters have been saying it can be better.”
The World Athletics CEO further explained that fan surveys, social media and market research in five different markets indicated a need for “a shorter, sharper and more entertaining product.” This has led to the reduction of the Diamond League broadcast window from 120 to 90 minutes.
However, the research wasn’t conducted in Kenya and Ethiopia with Ridgeon arguing that “it was difficult to conduct research in these countries,” a fact that’s easily disputable.
Also interesting is the fact that results of this “survey” have never been made public, and that Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes weren’t involved in decision-making.
“We will do a full review next year,” Ridgeon added when asked by Nation Sport why these changes were necessary.
World Athletics have a 25 percent shareholding in the Diamond League and recently signed a multi-million dollar deal with Chinese conglomerate, Wanda Group, who now have the 10-year rights for the 15-meet Diamond League series.
Athletics specialists feel the Chinese could have pushed for the changes at World Athletics, an organisation whose top leadership is now British-heavy since the arrival of Coe.
Besides President Coe and CEO Ridgeon, World Athletics’ head of communication Jackie Brock-Doyle is also British.
This is no strange phenomenon given the fact that the Diack administration was heavily Francophone and that of his predecessor, Italian Primo Nebiolo, had a number of Italians in key management positions.
Significantly, World Athletics also launched the Continental Tour here at the weekend, with this second-tier competition to be hosted in 10 cities.
Most of these are in Europe with the confirmed programme for nine of them being: Tokyo (May 10), Nanjing (May 13), Ostrava (May 22), Hengelo (June 1), Turku (June 9), Kingston (June 13), Szekesfehervar (July 7), Silesia (September 6) and Zagreb (September 15).
Kenya’s Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed and Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia were in Monaco at the weekend drumming up support for Nairobi to be given the 10th slot on the tour although inside information indicates this will be difficult as World Athletics would prefer investing in a well-resourced, already existing track and field meet than starting one from scratch.
A factor that gives South Africa the edge with Pretoria said to be interested.
World Athletics is also keen on investing more in USA at a time Eugene is preparing to host the next World Championships in 2021 in a brand new stadium built on the site of the former legendary Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.
With over $100 million (Sh1 billion) having been spent by the Monaco-based track and field governing body globally for development, hardly anything has been done in USA.
“American athletes are basing their careers on the European circuit and are easily recognizable on the streets of European cities than in American cities which is unfortunate. This has to change,” Ridgeon, a former elite hurdler explains.
At Saturday’s awards ceremony at the Grimaldi Forum here, world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge won his second straight Male Athlete of the Year Award with Iten-based Colm O’Connell being named Coach of the Year and Brigid Kosgei appreciated for breaking the women’s marathon world record.
Which was good consolation for Kenya as Nairobi prepares to host next year’s World Under-20 Championships hoping to get consideration as hosts of the senior World Championships in 2025.
It would be interesting to see how Coe and his team at World Athletics’ headquarters at Quai Antoine on Monaco’s Port Hercules continue to irrigate his legacy programme and how these reforms will impact on Kenya and African athletics.