Seb Coe: Decision on steeplechase unpopular, Kenya on right track

Wednesday March 18 2020
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World Athletics President Seb Coe (left) with President Uhuru Kenyatta when he visited State House in 2017 on the sidelines of the World Under-18 Championships. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ELIAS MAKORI

World Athletics President Seb Coe looks forward to next year’s World Under-20 Championships in Nairobi as his “highlight event” of the year, and has expressed support for Kenya’s bid to also host a leg on the newly-launched Continental Tour track and field series.

In an exclusive interview with Nation Sport at the weekend, Briton Coe also described the decision to knock the steeplechase and 5,000 metres off the 2020 Diamond League core events schedule as “unpopular,” saying the decision will be reviewed at the end of next year’s season.

The steeplechase and 5,000 metres will fall outside the broadcast window of the 15-event Diamond League series with World Athletics arguing the decision was based on research and television trends.

Coe also said he will fight to have the World Cross Country Championships revert to the annual format as opposed to the current arrangement where the popular competition is held once every two years.

Nairobi will host the World Under-20 Championships from July 7 to 12 next year and despite slow progress by the competition’s Local Organising Committee in preparing for the global event, Coe maintained he’s confident Nairobi would put on another great show.

Nairobi successfully hosted the 2017 World Under-18 Championships, drawing the biggest crowds ever witnessed in the global age-group competition.

Coe, a former Conservative Party Member of Parliament for Falmouth and Camborne in England, spoke on a wide range of issues, from the doping menace to claims that World Athletics has developed a soft spot for China and explained recent changes in the governance structure at World Athletics, formerly the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Coe, himself a distance running legend, former Olympic champion and world record holder, promised to continue to the fight to have the cross country – which Kenya has dominated for the last three decades – back as an annual event.

“I’ve been consistently the most supportive voice on the (World Athletics) Council since I joined it in 2003 on cross country. In fact, in every council meeting I have spoken about cross country,” he said.

“I was determined to try and create the most innovative course and we had the opportunity to do this in Aarhus (this year) and we have another coming up in 2021.

UNDER REVIEW

“These things are always going to be under review. I’m a passionate believer in cross country. I know the impact cross country has had on track and field in Kenya – all the top distance runners have been excellent cross country runners.

“I myself was a cross country runner, not as talented as your nation, but it was an important part of the mental and physical approach,” said Coe, an Olympic champion in the 1,500m at the Moscow (1980) and Los Angeles (1994) Games, where he also won silvers twice in the 800m.

Coe, 63, noted that the newly-formed World Athletics’ Competitions Commission will look into reviewing some of the recent unpopular decisions, including the ruling on the cross country, steeplechase and 3,000m, at the end of each season.

“I’m sure they (Competitions Commission) will want to review a whole lot of things, of which cross country will be one of them,” he pointed out.

He noted that the steeplechase was being taken seriously despite the fact that it will not be among the signature events on the 2020 Diamond League schedule.

“The steeplechase is being taken seriously. If you look at the possibility of running the men’s and women’s steeple in the Diamond League, it has lost just two opportunities. There’s still five opportunities to run the Diamond League in the steeple.

“You know where we started… we wanted to speed up the pace of the meetings, we wanted the broadcast window to be reduced, because broadcasters and many of the athletes themselves were saying that a new format was important.”

Coe also noted that the fact that World Athletics secured a new title sponsor for the Diamond League (Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group) for the first time in eight years was key to the ruling on the distance running events.

“But I’m not going to sit here and pretend to you that each one of these changes is popular. But the decision into what goes into that 90-minute (television broadcast) window was made unanimously by all the (Diamond League) meeting directors. It’s the only thing they all agreed on that day.”

CONTINENTAL TOUR

He noted that the newly-launched, 10-meeting Continental Tour would be a great opportunity to have more steeplechase races.

While nine of the meeting venues have been decided, with most of the events in Europe, Kenya is keen on hosting the 10th meeting of the Tour with Coe confident Nairobi can stage a viable competition.

“I know that Athletics Kenya is determined to be on that Tour and are working towards that end. We made it very clear that we want the Continental Tour not to just use the word ‘continental’ for no reason. We wanted to embrace all the area (continental) associations and I made a particular point at the Council meeting in Monaco (last month) to make sure that everybody understood that Africa must be represented, given the extra-ordinary athletes that you have.

“I know that (Athletics Kenya President) Jackson Tuwei and Athletics Kenya is determined to be in this and they are working to that end.”

In the exclusive interview with Nation Sport, Coe also touched on the issue of doping in Kenya, training of Kenyan coaches and technical officials, athletes’ change of nationality, among other topical issues. The detailed interview will be published in the Daily Nation on Wednesday.