Track and field events staged outside stadiums in street situations are crucial to attract interest in and increase popularity of athletics, IAAF presidential candidate Sergey Bubka said Saturday.
The former Olympic and 10-time world pole vault champion is in a two-way race with two-time 1500m gold medallist Seb Coe to succeed Lamine Diack as president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
And Bubka insisted that innovative ideas to bring athletics to the people were key to guarantee future success for a sport vying in an increasingly football-centred world.
Street athletics already exist in limited forms.
The shot put of the Zurich Diamond League is traditionally held in the city’s railway station, for example, and Manchester hosts a top-level outdoor sprint event that has attracted the biggest names including Usain Bolt while the pole vault has often featured in venues outside stadiums.
“The street athletics at the European Games in Baku was a great success in which we can promote sport and highlight athletics,” Bubka told a small group of journalists ahead of the Diamond League meeting in the French capital.
The pole vault in Baku was won by Germany’s reigning world champion Raphael Holzdeppe, but four other athletes set personal bests in an event attended by thousands.
“There was already street athletics in the 1970s and 1980s, when I competed,” reminisced Bubka, with the vote on the IAAF presidency race with Coe set for August 19 ahead of the world championships in Beijing.
“And I once did a promotion of the Diamond League in Paris and there was a pole vault competition in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“This is the way to approach most of the public and spectators, even people not familiar with athletics, but when they pass by with their kids, they will enjoy seeing it and like this you discover new youngsters and attract them because the future of course is youth and how we will bring them in.”
Bubka said he had no problem with street athletics results counting officially.
“We can make official results if everything’s done to IAAF rules and regulations, there is no difference” between events held indoors, in outdoor stadiums or in the street,” the Ukrainian insisted.
“Everything is the same, the only difference is the environment.”
Bubka added that the proximity of spectators, as opposed to massed ranks in tribunes far from the action, was “part of the success of athletes”.
“Through my career when I competed, I achieved and won many events and I proved to myself I could do something. Later I started to compete for the spectators.
“When I came into the stadium and it was empty, I wasn’t interested in competing.
“You arrive at a level where you become athlete and actor. You perform for them, they motivate you, they give you energy.
“It makes for an attractive event. It’s sport and show together. We must engage in entertainment.”
An added advantage for street athletics, Bubka added, was its versatility.
“You can do it on the street, in a square, in a shopping mall, indoor outdoor, shotput, discus on the beach, it makes it interesting!” – Agence France-Presse