Seb Coe: Sport will help clear social and political tensions

Sebastian Coe and Volodymyr Zelenskyy

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe (right) meets with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine during the athletics boss' visit of the war ravaged country on July 1, 2024.

Photo credit: Courtesy of World Athletics

What you need to know:

  • Coe says he remains hopeful Paris Olympics will help restore the spirit of nationhood in Kenya.
  • The Kenyan protests are challenging the increasingly difficult living conditions in the country.

World Athletics President Seb Coe believes that now, more than ever, the voice of sport will be louder in helping end global political tensions and in healing broken societies.

Speaking on Monday at a media debriefing on his visit last weekend to war-ravaged Ukraine, Coe, who is also Great Britain’s Olympic legend and multiple middle distance world record holder, said his visit to Kyiv was aimed at witnessing, first-hand, how the country’s athletes are coping as they prepare to compete in their first Olympic Games since the war.

Coe travelled to Ukraine last Friday – on Ukraine’s Constitution Day – and met with athletes and also with the country’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

Over 500 sports facilities in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed during the ongoing Russian aggression, several of which Coe visited during his time in the country.

He noted that there’s only one indoor athletics arena standing, with the impact on Ukraine’s infrastructure having made it extremely difficult for athletes at all levels in the sport to train and compete.

Coe also noted that he has been closely following the regular demonstrations by young Kenyan activists in recent days and remained hopeful that the July 26 to August 11 Olympic Games in Paris will help restore the spirit of nationhood.

The Kenyan protests are basically challenging the increasingly difficult living conditions in the country and President William Ruto’s government’s attempts at increasing taxes despite these challenges.

“I’ve been watching (the Kenyan demonstrations) closely…,” Coe responded to a question by Nation Sport, noting that sport has helped mitigate the grave situation in Ukraine.

“I’ve spoken about the impact sport can have at every level… as a social worker, at community level through to actually shifting cultural dial at a global and international level,” he said.

Sebastian Coe

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe during the pre-event press conference in Bathurst, Australia, on the eve of the World Athletics Cross Country Championships on February 17, 2023.

Photo credit: Courtesy of World Athletics

But he sought to focus more intensely on the situation in Ukraine: “One of the more commonly expressed views to me was that during this awful period in the history of Ukraine, sport is the one thing that has kept optimism and the spirit alive.

“And that’s why I think it was important for our sport - that has enjoyed such incredible success from a Ukraine team that has in turn contributed to the profile of our sport of athletics – that we were there (in Ukraine last weekend).

“That’s a view expressed profoundly by everybody in the country that I met, from the President down, that sport, like never before, is absolutely critical to the fabric of Ukraine and as a cushion to what people are going through.”

In a statement issued earlier to the media, World Athletics said that Coe attended the Ukrainian Championships in Lviv last Saturday and spent several hours meeting with the competitors, many of whom have benefitted from the World Athletics Ukraine Fund over the past 24 months.

“Like many national championships around the world, the competition doubled as the country’s Olympic trials, forming a key stepping stone for Ukrainian athletes as they prepare for the Olympic Games in Paris,” the statement said.

“Having met with the Ukrainian team at our World Championships in Oregon in 2022, last year in Budapest, and most recently at the European Athletics Championships in Rome, I consistently told them, ‘If you can come to our championships, I can come to yours’. So, it was important for me to be here this weekend at their national championships ahead of the Paris Olympics,” said Coe in the statement.

“I have been deeply moved by the resilience and determination of the athletes. As we arrived at the stadium, an air raid siren was sounding and delayed the 200m start. This is the stark and sobering reality and challenges the athletes face day-in, day-out.”

Coe also met with Ukrainian Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday with the Ukrainian leader thanking World Athletics for the assistance provided to Ukrainian athletes and their families over the past two years.

“I also made the commitment to the President that in my international travels I would press the case for support in the reconstruction of a very badly damaged country, especially in sports facilities,” Coe added in yesterday’s conference call.