Athletics: Coe's mission to draw in the sponsors' gold

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The Independent Online
SEBASTIAN COE is back in the running on behalf of British athletics for the first time in almost a decade. The double Olympic 1500 metres champion has been appointed chairman of Fast Track Events, the commercial arm of UK athletics.

Coe, now 42, is taking on an advisory role in his first formal connection with British sport since he was vice-chairman of the Sports Council from 1986-1989.

His immediate task will be to add his prestige and experience to the negotiations which Fast Track believes will provide the domestic sport with a major sponsor for this season's televised meetings. Alan Pascoe, the corporate chairman of Fast Track, is hopeful that the identity of what he terms "a white-knight sponsor" could be announced within weeks.

Coe emphasised that his new appointment will not affect the political career he has embarked upon following his retirement from the track in 1990 - since losing his seat as an MP at the last election, he has become private secretary and chief of staff to the Conservative leader, William Hague.

In re-identifying himself with British athletics, however, he has embraced an entity which is arguably in a healthier state than the Conservative party.

Following the financial collapse of the domestic sport in October 1997, a newly constituted body has emerged, headed by two highly respected former Olympians in David Moorcroft and David Hemery; a new three-year television deal with the BBC has tripled the sport's income; and the public image of athletics has been largely restored by successful showings at last year's European Championships and Commonwealth Games as well as last month's World Indoor Championships.

The arrival on board of one of the most highly regarded of all Olympians, a man who has the ear of the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the respect of Primo Nebiolo, the president of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, can do nothing but good for the cause of British athletics.

"The sport is well on the road to recovery and I am encouraged by the way that everyone has pulled together," said Coe, who nevertheless hinted that painful decisions would have to be made if British athletics was to maintain its resurgence in popularity.

"If I am being brutally honest, there have been too many meetings. You have to recognise that you can't sell people rubbish. Difficult decisions have to be made about cherry-picking events and competitors in order to maintain audiences."

Coe's influence and contacts have already been brought to bear on Britain's behalf. He was among those who persuaded the IAAF to restore Grand Prix I and II status to, respectively the Sheffield and Gateshead meetings, following the announcement that both would be relegated for low standards of performance last season.