KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Gianni Infantino is fighting what will ultimately prove a losing battle in attempting to turn back the reformist tide in sports governance if Lord Coe is to be believed.

While the president of world football was trimming reformers’ sails around FIFA Congress in Manama, Bahrain, so the president of world athletics was telling a media congress in Seoul how times will change for the better.

Coe had been challenged to clean up the leadership act at the International Association of Athletics Federations after being elected in 2015 to succeed the now-disgraced Lamine Diack.

Lord Coe . . . optimistic for the future

The changes he has wrought, admittedly on a less-monolithic organisation, have been widely acknowledged by contrast with Infantino’s work since he was elected president of FIFA in only February last year in place of now-disgraced Sepp Blatter.

Other comparisons exist: Diack is being investigated by the French police over allegations concerning a Russian doping cover-up while Blatter is under criminal investigation in Switzerland over misuse of funds and a TV rights award.

Term limits

Both men deny wrongdoing but the governing bodies they left behind have both introduced term limits to inhibit similar long-term power play. This, for Coe, is the key to change confronting leaders in sport, whether they like it or not, want to resist it or not.

He set out his belief in a braver new leadership world in Seoul at the 80th annual congress of AIPS, the international sports journalists’ association.

Coe began by reviewing his work at the IAAF, saying: “Sport has lost a lot of trust. Athletics more than most, an unconscionable amount, both on the track and the administration. We are in the process of rebuilding trust but it’s a long journey back.

“In less than eight months we reworked the governance of our sport and set in motion a chain of reforms that should never allow our sport to return to the days we have and are working through.

“Some of the reform is basic corporate governance – clear roles to provide a clear line of sight from the top of the organisation to the operation on the ground.

Debate and discussion

“We need to have continued debate and discussion and transparency so all athletes and fans can look in to our sport and satisfy themselves that all is going according to plan and that we are doing what we said we would do.”

Coe then broadened out his comments to review the changing face, demands and expectations of sports leadership as a whole.

He said: “Leadership is not what it used to be. Does sport understand the ebbing nature of power? Is it the ability to get people to do what we want or the ability to stop them doing what we don’t?

“Leadership is going through a historic revision. Leaders do not have the same period of time as in the past to make changes. They are not in position for as long as they used to be and that is a good thing.

‘Unfettered powers’

“Samaranch, Blatter and Ecclestone were the last of bucaneers, Ferguson and Wenger too*. Never again will leaders be left in unfettered power for so long. The days of individual command and control are over.”

Coe laid some of the blame for the very public out-of-competition misbehaviour by some sports stars on a culture of irresponsibility created by “a lack of leadership across the sporting landscape.”

He warned: “Leaders of the future will lead by actions not rhetoric. They will be held to their promises and have less authority to do it their way.

“Hoping that the squall will pass by is a forlorn hope. It won’t. It’s time for sport to start leading again but first we need to get our houses in order.”

** Juan Antonio Samaranch, late Spanish president of the International Olympic Committee from 1980 to 2001; Sepp Blatter, banned former president of world football federation FIFA from 1998 to 2016; Bernie Ecclestone, boss of motor racing’s Formula One from 1974 to until this ast January; Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager from 1986 to 2014; Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal since 1996.

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