— Published 1 August 2023

For Sebastian Coe, a new mandate before the fireworks

Sebastian Coe is a happy man. Understandably so. At the age of 66, the former British miler is gearing up for a month of August without a break, marked by two events from which he expects the best without really fearing the worst.

The first is set to be another plebiscite. President of World Athletics since 2015, re-elected unanimously in 2019, Sebastian Coe will be reappointed without the slightest anxiety for a third – and final – four-year term at the head of the international athletics body. He is the only candidate for the top job. The election is due to take place on August 17 in Budapest, on the sidelines of the World Championships (August 19 to 27).

The second highlight of the coming weeks: the Budapest World Championships. As Sebastian Coe predicted in an enthusiastic online press briefing on Monday July 31, the global event promises to be one of the most exciting in history. According to the Briton, it could even surpass all previous editions in terms of performance.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an exceptional start to the season as the one we’ve just had, suggested Sebastian Coe. I was lucky enough to be present, in Florence, to witness the first of Faith Kipyegon’s three world records, broken over 1,500 metres. This was followed by three more world records in early June in Paris. The performances were exceptional. The Budapest World Championships have the potential to be the best ever in terms of performance. All the ingredients are there, with 2,000 athletes from over 200 countries. There can’t be many sports where there’s talk of possible gold medals for Ecuador or the Dominican Republic.

The Briton took advantage of his exchange with the media to defend the choice of Budapest, where a new athletics stadium has been built in anticipation of the world event, despite the recent anti-LGBT+ stance taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The Hungarian government also imposed a fine of over 30,000 euros on a bookshop that sold a novel about a love affair between two high-school students in its children’s section. The authorities also enacted an amendment to the law to exclude transgender women from an early retirement program.

Sebastian Coe did not shy away from the issue. But he cautiously backed the IOC’s position prior to the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, when the Olympic body explained that the staging of major events could help to accelerate respect for human rights. “On this issue, at least, I agree with the IOC“, pleaded the Briton.

With just under three weeks to go to the World Championships, Sebastian Coe is expecting a firework display of records in the Hungarian capital. But despite this, he is keen to continue developing the world event. “We need to give it even more rhythm and speed, he explains. We also need to ensure that the most important moments of the program in certain parts of the world are broadcast at times when people can follow them during their normal day, without asking them to get up at ungodly hours.

Another area of work for World Athletics is a new “format“, i.e. a new competition, to be squeezed into the rare gaps in the international calendar from 2026 onwards. Sebastian Coe has mentioned this as a project, still under discussion, which should appeal to broadcasters.

This new format could be added to our four-year cycle, said the British executive. A different, very tight format, with only the very best athletes in each discipline. I see it as two or three evenings of high-quality athletics, with a reduced number of entrants, no heats or playoffs. A format designed for television.

By his own admission, the case is not yet closed. Opinions differ within World Athletics as to what form it should take. But contacts have already been made with several potential hosts.