Sebastian Coe, World Athletics president, on Tokyo 2020 - The Agenda in full


There was much deliberation over whether this year's Tokyo Olympics would – or should - go ahead during the pandemic. The year-long delay made people doubt it would ever happen, with the head of its organizing committee Toshiro Muto even refusing to rule out cancelling the Games with just days to go.

Despite COVID-19-related fears, the Olympics are now well under way – albeit without the spectators – and we are even seeing some new world records being set.

But just what impact is the absence of crowds having on the performance of athletes? Organizers are adamant that they have taken sufficient precautionary measures to protect people, but how much of a role did money play in the decision to go ahead? What are the latest efforts being made to tackle doping in sports? And how will the 2020 Games be remembered in the Olympic history books?


Sebastian Coe is the President of World Athletics, the international governing body for the sport, covering track and field as well as running and racewalking.

Coe is also Chancellor of Loughborough University in the UK, Executive Chairman of CSM Sport and Entertainment and a member of the IOC Tokyo 2020 Coordination Committee, and a council member of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.

He was chairman of the London 2012 Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

During his own athletics career, Coe set 12 world records. At the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 he won gold in the 1500m and silver in the 800m, an achievement which he repeated in Los Angeles in 1984. In recognition of his success, he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

Coe retired from competitive athletics in 1990 and became a UK Member of Parliament, before becoming a peer (a lord) in 2000, and in 2013 received his Companion of Honour in recognition of the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

He is also a Laureus World Sport Academy Member.



When asked by The Agenda's Stephen Cole if the absence of spectators was affecting the performance of athletes, Coe says they understand it was the sacrifice which was required in order for the Games to go ahead at all.

"It's not ideal, but do also remember the athletes have now rather got used to competing in front of empty stadiums or, at best, maybe only partially full.

"We've seen no obvious diminution in their performances of late. In fact, quite the opposite in athletics - we've seen a cluster of world records in the area that have really kick-started our sport in a phenomenal way.

"This is the biggest platform for them in sport. Seventy percent of competitors at an Olympic Games only have one bite. I was lucky I competed in two games, but the vast majority are not going to be coming back. So they're very pleased that the authorities have probably done little else in the last year but to figure out how we can get competitions back on to the calendar in a safe and secure way - not just for the competitors, but for the people of the country that are hosting it."

Stephen Cole also asked Sebastian Coe about the precautionary measures in place to monitor any COVID-19 infections, as well as the overall experience for the athletes.

"It's certainly going to be a different Games and life in the village is going to be different from what it would normally have been. I was part of the team that delivered the London Games. I know the complexities of the village, but also managing and delivering services across 10,500 competitors and another 7,000 support-staff and delegates.

"The athletes are not going to have the flexibility to go to see friends of theirs, and the American team or the Australian or French teams. If they lose in the first round, they are not going to have the pleasure of soaking up the Olympic experience until the closing ceremony - they will be leaving within 48 hours.

"I'm not going to be too concerned that they are not able to go off out of the village and share the delights of Tokyo, enjoy a burger, bar or coffee shop - I'm afraid that's not the world that most of those athletes live in. They actually are there for a job. We all accept competing for your country in an Olympic Games is a massive honor."

On pandemic prevention measures, Coe says he's confident that everyone involved will be kept safe.

"I still think the risk is manageable and it is certainly a Games that - I believe - can be delivered safely and securely if under restricted - and very different - circumstances. The athletes are absolutely up to this challenge because they want to be able, at the end of their careers, to say they competed in an Olympic Games."


But he told Cole that he was concerned that communication during the preparation stage perhaps wasn't as clear as it could have been in terms of letting Japanese locals know about the safety measures being put in place.

"A minor criticism is that the amount of work that is going on in the background to deliver these games safely and securely may not be communicated as well as it could have been to the people in Japan," he said.

"I absolutely understand the nervousness of any community that would be staging an Olympic Games. But I do think those delivery partners have really done everything they possibly can to make sure these games are safe and secure, and I believe they will be."


On the influence of Olympic revenues in deciding that the Games should proceed, Coe said that the money involved, or which is produced as a result of holding a Games, often benefits the athletes of tomorrow.

"Money is not a dirty word here. Ninety percent of all the income that is generated from an Olympic Games finds its way back into the sports.

"That money is there to identify programs, deliver development of the sport, to nurture the next generation of competitors and to continue to drive the spirit that is the Olympic movement.

"And frankly, without that income, some of those sports, I fear, would simply disappear.”

And on doping in sport, Coe told The Agenda that significant progress was being made to ensure athletes were competing on a level playing field.

"Doping is a big issue in all sports, not uniquely to athletics - I don't think any other sport out there has done as much as athletics in the last five years to put its own house in order.

"The creation of the Athletic Integrity Unit is now being adopted across a number of sports. Nobody is walking away from the importance of getting on top of the scourge of drugs in sport, particularly performance enhancing drugs, but I think the confidence that athletes have expressed has come a long way."

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