Alan Hubbard

Good luck to Sebastian Coe, a true friend - and passionate fan - of athletics as he goes toe-to-toe with another Olympic legend, ex-pole vault maestro Sergey Bubka, for the right to rule the turbulent world of track and field.

Coe has needed to call on all his political in-fighting skills in his attempt to win election as President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), especially as he has been with his back to the ropes the for the first time in his life recently with his controversially feisty defence of the sport over the latest, and disturbingly unremitting, drugs allegations.

For the first time in his 45 years in the sport Coe has been having bad press, and it has made him a little shirty. Understandably as some of the attacks have been coruscating.

One critic, known to have a particularly high opinion of himself as a sage of the back pages, loftily opined: “Coe’s determination to uphold the status quo, instead of encouraging the IAAF to embrace the opportunity of transparent cleansing in a spirit of co-operation, is that of a machine politician, operating with a wilfully limited field of vision...He espouses high principles but operates in a spirit of pragmatism without recognising the damage this can cause.”

If Seb ever required evidence that his 2012 Olympic honeymoon was well and truly over it has come with not only the current doping imbroglio but criticism linking him quite unfairly to the fading Olympic legacy in terms of sports participation - including athletics which has now lost its principal sponsor Sainsbury’s.

Plus the ill-feeling over West Ham United’s cheap-as-chips occupancy of an expensively-converted Olympic Stadium that should always have been designed to accommodate football.

Let me make it clear that in my view there is no-one better equipped than Lord Coe to take athletics forward. Becoming the world leader of his sport surely has been his destiny.

I have known him since he was a relatively impecunious student athlete in Sheffield and have never doubted his bravery, integrity or beliefs. And especially his resilience.

All will be tested should he become the second lord (after the autocratic Marquess of Exeter) to occupy the post about to be vacated by Lamine Diack, who of late has been more Lame Duck.

However, no IAAF election has ever been quite as lively or contentious - though perhaps not quite as much so as the coming election for a new Labour leader in the UK  - but it has had its moments.

Sebastian Coe goes up against Ukrainian Sergey Bubka for the IAAF Presidency in Beijing tomorrow
Britain's Sebastian Coe goes up against Ukrainian Sergey Bubka for the IAAF Presidency in Beijing tomorrow ©Getty Images

The doping issue has been central to the campaigns of both contenders and Coe has been uncharacteristically prickly over the vilification of “my sport” in the British and German media.

“A declaration of war,” he termed it in a high horse riposte not normally associated with sport’s consummate diplomat, a stance widely condemned as a cynical piece of electioneering, which he vehemently denied. “I will always come to the defence of my sport when it is being treated unfairly,” he staunchly declared.

The German journalist who obtained the details of blood tests from an IAAF whistle-blower claimed it was a "cheap electoral manoeuvre", aimed at the IAAF electorate.

So was Coe, like FIFA’s Sepp Blatter, defending the indefensible? Some continue to think so. It will be up to Coe should he win to persuade them otherwise.

Manifesto teasers made by both Coe and Bubka have seen considerable largesse in terms of cash for training and facilities offered as incentives to Member Federations in the hope of capturing the odd vote. But Coe’s promise to set up an independent drugs-testing system seems the most relevant in the circumstances.

The campaign has cost Coe a tidy few bob out of a personal fortune estimated north of £25 million ($39 million/€35 million), though some travelling tabs have been picked up by UK Sport who have a fund earmarked for helping Britons secure prestigious international posts in sport.

And here’s an intriguing thought. A Coe Presidency will mean Great Britain will have overall responsibility for the two sports most deeply tarnished by doping - athletics and cycling, where Lancastrian Brian Cookson is now the new-broom President of the International Cycling Union.

Not only that - with Glaswegian Sir Craig Reedie also in charge of the World Anti-Doping Agency you might say it is a positive result for GB. But will they pass the test?

Coe will certainly consider it money well spent for him if he can get his fingerprints firmly over the sport he has cherished since childhood. To run world athletics has been a dream perhaps even more compelling than winning Olympic gold or securing then presiding over one of the most memorable Olympic Games in history.

His passion for athletics is pure and simple.

Alas, athletics is far from pure and it is no longer simple.

For instance, leaving aside the current incendiary device that is ticking away alarmingly, surely shudders will run through the new President, and athletics as a whole, if double cheat Justin Gatlin ends up on top of the podium when the IAAF World Championships begin in Beijing this weekend.

American Justin Gatlin, a two-times convicted drug cheat, could heap further embarrassment on the IAAF if he wins gold at the upcoming World Championships
American Justin Gatlin, a two-times convicted drug cheat, could heap further embarrassment on the IAAF if he wins gold at the upcoming World Championships ©Getty Images

Would Coe or Bubka - indeed any IAAF bigwig - have the front to present him with his medal? Also, you would need far more than the digits on each hand to count the number of druggies shamelessly parading their once chemically–fuelled talents.

The IAAF says it is doing everything it can to eradicate doping. How can this be when cynical cheats like Justin Gatlin are still welcomed to compete, bringing disgrace to the sport? Or by continuing to recognise records set in the days of endemic state doping programmes in Eastern Europe?

These are issues Coe/Bubka must immediately address, like what to do about Russia’s flagrant abuse of the anti-doping system.

Coe remains strong favourite but Bubka has been boxing clever of late, wooing influential delegates in Africa, Asia and South America. Some have even forecast a split decision but Coe has always been the master of the late KO.

So what is his future?

Defeat for him would be personally demoralising, surely the termination of any further sporting political ambitions. There could always be a return to real politics of course. The Tories are keeping a watchful eye on tomorrow’s result, and would leap at the opportunity to re-invite him to become their candidate in next year’s London Mayoral Election, where most likely he would face his old Olympic sparring partner, Labour’s Dame Tessa Jowell.

Coe has previously said this is a no-no. But we shall see.

If wins he certainly won’t have time for much else as it should lead to an automatic seat on the International Olympic Committee, over which hopefully he might preside one day.

Sebastian Coe is the strong favourite to be elected although opponent Sergey Bubka may yet spring a surprise
Sebastian Coe is the strong favourite to be elected although opponent Sergey Bubka may yet spring a surprise ©Getty Images

He would have to give up some of his copious business interests, and certainly relinquish his ambassadorial role with Nike, while probably remaining chair of the British Olympic Association.

Interestingly, if then steps down the man I believe best suited to succeed him, the former sports and Olympics Minister Sir Hugh Robertson, is currently carrying the bucket and sponge for him into the big fight in Beijing.

As a great boxing buff, Coe will have been amused to see that Bubka literally has a heavyweight in his corner. The Ukrainian underdog has brought with him the former world champion Vitali Klitschko, now Mayor of Kiev, for support.

Seconds out! May the best man win, and may that be Seb. At least we know he will come out fighting for his sport.