MIke Rowbottom ©insidethegames

Sergey Bubka’s manifesto, launched this week ahead of his challenge for the Presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations, features key policies including greater funding for National Federations, particularly the needier of them. 

It also lays huge value on appealing to youth, and stimulating commercial revenue. And making the athletics calendar more coherent and relevant.

Anti-doping is, of course, another major element. Zero tolerance here. And there is a big tick in the box for street athletics and road running events.

As for his opponent, Sebastian Coe, well he revealed back in December that he was all for road running events, street athletics, a crackdown on doping, stimulating commercial revenue, making the athletics calendar more coherent, funding poorer nations and appealing to youth.

It’s fair to say, then, that there is some common ground here.
Sergey Bubka (left) and Sebastian Coe shake hands after being voted in as Vice Presidents of the IAAF at the 2007 Congress in Osaka. Now for the Presidential competition
Sergey Bubka (left) and Sebastian Coe shake hands after being voted in as Vice Presidents of the IAAF at the 2007 Congress in Osaka. Now for the Presidential competition ©Getty Images

I had a fascinating chat last month - well, I was fascinated at any rate - with the McKelvey-Grant Professor in the Department of Organisational Behaviour at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York State.

His name is Sam Bacharach, and he is one of the guest speakers at The Academy, an international conference for ambitious sports leaders that will take place in Lausanne on May 27 and 28.

Bacharach is also co-founder of BLG (Bacharach Leadership Group) which specialises in training leaders at all organisational levels in the skills of bringing ideas forward from germination to implementation.

Recent clients of Bacharach’s include Cisco, SunGard and Warner Music and BLG material has been used by numerous Fortune 500 companies.

Professor Samuel Bacharach of Cornell University has some telling insights into leadership which are applicable to the current competition between Sergey Bubka and Sebastian Coe
Professor Samuel Bacharach of Cornell University has some telling insights into leadership which are applicable to the current competition between Sergey Bubka and Sebastian Coe ©BLG

“Leadership,” Bacharach told me, “is to do with the capacity of individuals to mobilise agendas. It’s about having the behavioural skills to move the agenda.

 “It’s not enough just to come up with a great idea. We are concerned with what are the fine details. Who do you form a coalition with? Who do you talk to?”

A key part of this ability to succeed, he believes, lies in being “agile” - both personally, and organisationally.

“It is all about mobilising ideas and sustaining them,” he added. “That to me is what leadership is all about. It’s not about giving a speech, it’s about mundane execution.”

I was in Monaco for the IAAF’s (strictly the International Athletics Foundation’s) Gala celebrations in November, and I spent quite a lot of time blithering about within the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel, the effective headquarters for this annual gathering.

I had an arrangement to interview Renaud Lavillenie, the world pole vault record holder who, later that same day, would be revealed as the IAAF’s World Athlete of the Year.

And while I was waiting for the photographers, I saw Bubka giving evidence of the agility of which Bacharach spoke – a personal agility to match the athletic agility which made him a peerless pole vaulter in his time.

Earlier in the day I had seen him chatting with the Frenchman who had eclipsed his almost 21-year-old world mark. The two talk often, although not, as Lavillenie would later tell me, about pole vault technique, as their styles are, one could say, poles apart.

Sergey Bubka congratulates Renaud Lavillenie after the Frenchman has beaten his longstanding world pole vault record
Sergey Bubka congratulates Renaud Lavillenie after the Frenchman has beaten his longstanding world pole vault record ©Getty Images
Now he was moving smoothly forwards to greet a series of figures as they came through the revolving doors. There were handshakes. There were smiles.

Somewhere else in the hotel, doubtless, Coe was also taking an opportunity to meet and greet.

In recent weeks they appear to be moving around the globe in tandem. Both were at the recent CARIFTA Games in St Kitts and Nevis.  Both will be at this this weekend’s European Athletics Congress in Bled, where the new European Athletics President is to be voted into office to take over from the retiring Hansjörg Wirz.

It is at gatherings like these that leaders-in-waiting display their unique agility.

Bubka has already fallen to earth in this most testing of disciplines, having been heavily defeated in 2013 as he ran for the post of International Olympic Committee President.

But this is the man who won six successive world outdoor gold medals. He is back on his feet, he is up and running, he is meeting, greeting, and his belief is vaulting…

Coe, meanwhile, continues to convince as a man, and a politician, who hardly ever puts a foot wrong.

Speaking to the outgoing European Athletics President Wirz last week, I was struck by how vehemently he made the point that the IAAF Presidency should mean a 100 per cent commitment – and that any other regard by the incumbent for advancement within the IOC would automatically weaken their resolve to “fight for their sport”.

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Outgoing European Athletics President Hansjörg Wirz (right) has been strong in his insistence that whoever replaces Lamine Diack (centre) IAAF President must 100 per cent, full-time attention to the role ©Getty Images

The man who looks set fair to take over from Wirz this weekend, Svein Arne Hansen, has disagreed with quite a lot of what the current President has done recently.

But when I asked him about the question of the IAAF Presidency, he was resolutely supportive of the Wirz stance.

“I can support that fully,” Hansen said. “I think the President of the IAAF has to be 100 per cent committed to that job, just as the European Athletics President should be. So there I can support Hansjörg. I do not like the idea that the IAAF job would be some kind of springboard to the IOC. “

Bubka himself insisted in his manifesto presentation via a Google hangout and YouTube this week that the position of IAAF President “must be a full time job”, adding: “I remember the warning s given by former IOC President Juan-Antonio Samaranch many years ago, that the President must be in the office and must work hard for the interests of his sport. I consider it is very important it must be a full-time job.”

Is this a side reference to Coe’s extensive business interests in marketing and health clubs?

But Coe himself was already on this point last December when he acknowledged: “The president of an International Federation has to be predicated on one pretty immutable principle – that you do anything and everything to make sure that all decisions are in the best interests of the sport,” he said.

“You do not represent the IOC in your sport; you represent your sport in the IOC. And that is the way it has to be.”

You don’t see operators more agile than Coe. This is a fascinating contest.