Coe (left) and Bubka (right)

Two modern-day legends of track and field will battle to take over the presidency of athletics’ world governing body next week in the knowledge that they face a major overhaul to salvage the sport‘s doping-blighted face.

Either Sergey Bubka or Sebastian Coe will become president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) on Wednesday after the body’s 214 member federations vote, with incumbent Lamine Diack stepping down after 16 years in charge at the age of 82.

Facing the Ukrainian 10-time world pole vault champion and British two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist is a monumental task of tackling the doping scourge that has rocked athletics.

The IAAF has in recent weeks been at the centre of allegations of widespread cheating and suspicious blood tests involving hundreds of athletes. The Monaco-based body has responded whole-heartedly, calling the claims “sensationalist and confusing”.

In much the same way as football’s world body FIFA has been torn apart by allegations of corruption, with Sepp Blatter agreeing to stand down as president as a result of the fall-out, the IAAF finds itself in turbulent waters.

And rarely can someone be parachuted into a job at such a pivotal time in a sport craving more public and media interest and support in a world so dominated by football.

Insiders say the race is too close to call. Bubka, 51, is standing for both the presidency and the vice-presidency, the 58-year-old Coe just the former, having announced he was also willing to step down from his role as an ambassador for US equipment company Nike.

The manifestoes of the two former stars are not hugely differing to the layman, though one major divergence is Coe’s insistence that an independent drug-testing body be established. Bubka, who also won Olympic gold in 1988, would prefer to continue working with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

– ignorance and malevolence –

Interestingly, Coe went for the messenger’s jugular in the wake of ARD/Sunday Times claims that more than 800 athletes recorded suspicious blood tests between 2001 and 2012.

He described the finding as a “declaration of war” against athletics, adding that the coverage was “wrong” and showed “a breathtaking ignorance or a level of malevolence”.

Bubka, however, avoided taking aim at the media outlets, instead reiterating his calls for more transparency and admitting that the IAAF needed to be “more proactive”.

Both men have some serious experience of sportsmanagement and are masters in confidently holding their own in the public domain.

Bubka, 51, has been involved with the IAAF since 2001 and has served as vice-president since 2007. He has also been president of Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee in Ukraine since 2005 and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1999.

He decided, rather ambitiously, to run for IOC president in 2013, but lost to current head Thomas Bach.

Coe has also accomplished much in his life since winning his second 1500m gold medal in 1984, going on to become a Conservative politician in Britain and notably overseeing the highly successful London Olympics in 2012.

“I have for a long time known we had two potential candidates to lead our sport into the future who would each make good presidents,” Diack told AFP ahead of the vote.

“It was for this reason that at the 2007 IAAF elections I asked two of the four vice-presidents to voluntarily stand down to make room for Seb and Sergey to advance.”

Be it Bubka or Coe who wins over the bulk of the member states that make up the IAAF, the new president faces a battle royale to rescue the credibility and integrity of track and field, the biggest Olympic sport but still a minnow in financial terms. – Agence France-Presse

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