LONDON (Reuters) - World athletics head Lamine Diack is acutely aware of the need to promote his sport beyond its traditional boundaries and showcase exciting talents such as Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
In an interview after visiting the London 2012 Olympic sites, Diack expressed his enthusiasm for last month’s 150 meters street race in Manchester, in which Bolt set a world best.
“Fantastic idea!” he said. “In Dakar we have a grand prix meeting of the IAAF, we have the shot put on an island. I think it’s a new way to present our sport.”
Diack said there were plans to stage the pole vault at next year’s Paris Diamond League meeting beside the Eiffel Tower. Last year the shot put competition at the Stockholm meeting was held in the town center the night before the main competition.
The 75-year-old Senegalese president of the International Association of Athletics Federations also challenges the global ascendancy of soccer.
“Man-to-man challenge is the way, not football,” he said. “Parents come to me and say my son wants to be a football player, but how? Out of 100 how many are going to make a professional career: two, three, five?”
“Our job is to bring our sport back to the schools. We have to give it to a new generation; if not to our children, give it to our grandchildren.”
Diack was a soccer, athletics and volleyball international and also the French long jump champion from 1957-60 while studying in Paris.
“I played football for years, I was very successful in jumping. So I was taught that the way to be successful was to improve yourself and the way to do that was through athletics,” he said.
Diack said his aim was to stage a meeting in the new Diamond League, which starts next year, on each continent by 2012.
“Argentina, Caribbean, Asia. We want one in the Caribbean, we have the money,” he said.
Diack showed his independent mind last year with a rebuke to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge.
Rogge had accused Bolt of unseemly theatrics after the Jamaican’s astounding 100 meters world record at the Beijing Olympics.
“We live in a time when Olympic sports are struggling to remain attractive to young people, when we all need to make sport exciting and relevant to them,” Diack retorted.
“Since we need to create heroes that young people identify with, why criticize the behavior of a young man who is instantly and completely appealing to young people?”
Diack’s vision was endorsed by double Olympic 1,500 meters champion Sebastian Coe, now head of the 2012 London Olympic organizing committee.
“We need to re-energize the sport, we need to do some things differently; we are a very strong sport but we also have to recognize that young people think differently about the world, they think differently about sport,” Coe told reporters.
“We need to make sure that track and field which could and should be stronger in schools returns to school again, that’s where our talent gets identified.”
Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com