— Published 18 August 2023

“The Russians at the Paris 2024 Games? Highly unlikely”

Is athletics allergic to change? In its institutions, certainly. Elected for the first time in 2015 and unanimously re-elected four years later, Sebastian Coe has won a third – and final – four-year term as President of World Athletics without the slightest anxiety.

The only candidate to succeed him, the Briton won a full house on Thursday 17 August at the body’s Congress, held in Budapest just two days before the World Outdoor Championships (19 to 27 August). Of the 195 voters registered by the body, 192 gave their vote of confidence to the two-time Olympic 1500m champion. Three abstained, but there were no votes against.

Since its creation in 1912, the International Athletics Federation has had only six presidents. Before Sebastian Coe, Lamine Diack held the post for 16 years. The Italian Primo Nebiolo, the Senegalese’s predecessor, did even better, reigning over the IAAF for 18 years. Until his death in November 1999.

Stability, then, against all the odds. And yet, Sebastian Coe promised change on Thursday 17 August, when he faced the press after the Congress. “The first four years of my mandate was making sure the ship didn’t sink,” he explained, recounting his first two terms in office. “We were in a very serious position. The next four years were about dealing with issues such as Russia, protecting the female category and boosting one-day events. The next four years will focus on what is the product that will future-proof the sport for the next 30 years. I want to focus on the essence of the competitions, making them interesting, eagerly awaited, well-paced and appealing to young people.”

But how? The answer will have to wait. But the Briton repeated it in Budapest: the international calendar must be enriched by a new event in a “fallow year“, i.e. mid-Olympiad. He promised that the governing body would soon unveil a new format for an “action-packed” competition, the first of which could be held in 2026.

Sebastian Coe explained that work was underway to pull “a three-day festival” out of the hat, to which the best athletes in each discipline would be invited. The product would be tailored to the dimensions of television. Its aim will be to attract a new audience, less connoisseurs, looking for a show with no dead time.

Another new feature mentioned by Sebastian Coe, but marked by the traces of the past: the return of cross-country to the Olympic Games. The door has already been closed on Paris 2024, but World Athletics and its president are eyeing Los Angeles 2028.

Without trying to say too much, Sebastian Coe assured his audience that discussions were moving in the right direction, both with the IOC in Lausanne and with the organising committee in California. “We have to keep an eye on this window, but it’s quite promising“, he assured the press conference.

On the other hand, the Russian question is likely to remain unresolved. Unlike the vast majority of international federations, World Athletics has turned its back on the IOC and the recommendations of its Executive Board to reinstate Russian and Belarusian athletes. And Sebastian Coe is willing to take all the bets: the tide will not turn.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but our position is very clear and I would be very surprised if there is any shift in that position,” he explained. “We have certainty and we have done it for reasons of integrity of competition. We will of course monitor that situation and see what might the circumstances look like if there is any shift in the situation but I have to say that looks unlikely at the moment with where we are with events in Ukraine. I would be very surprised if the new Council (of World Athletics) changes its position. The presence of Russians and Belarusians at the Paris Games seems unlikely at the moment.”