Coe takes business and environmental lessons from pandemic
By Simon Ward
The experience of the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated to international sports organisations how they can run their businesses more effectively, while stressing the importance of sustainability, the environment and outdoor activity, according to World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
The Covid-19 crisis has had a devastating effect on the sports calendar, with major leagues and events among the competitions suspended, postponed or even cancelled.
Track and field has not been immune, with the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China put back 12 months to next March, and, following the rescheduling of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to 2021, that year's World Athletics Championships in Eugene in Oregon, USA moved to 2022.
In addition, World Athletics has been forced to shorten the 2020 Diamond League season, with the series of top-tier meetings reduced to 11 starting in Monaco in August.
However, despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought about, Coe, who is also executive chairman of UK-based agency CSM Sport & Entertainment, believes that travel restrictions, remote working and the increased use of video conferencing applications such as Skype and Zoom has shown the sports industry how it can be more efficient.
In an interview conducted as part of The Ocean Race Summit, held online from The Hague in the Netherlands this week, he said: “I think there will be a lot of people who have found out a lot out about themselves, including me, in the last few weeks… and maybe we are going to sit as communities and figure out there may be ways of working more sensibly, more cost effectively, and have less dramatic impacts on our own family lives and ecosystems.
“I said to my teams at World Athletics only a few weeks ago, ‘don't ever ask me to sign off on anything that has eight people flying eight time zones to present to this council for 45 minutes, to have supper with us and then to be back on the plane the following day.’ This cannot make sense anymore.
“We don't want to lose the human interactivity from our daily endeavours. It's important that meetings are conducted face-to-face but not every meeting has to be conducted face-to-face, and if you have a strategy in your company for sustainability then maybe we all ought to be living to that rather than just thinking, ‘this is a nice academic piece of work but it’s for somebody else to worry about, not me’. I think people will focus a lot more on the differences that they can make, and maybe even make judgements about their own work-life balance as well.”
As the global health situation improves, federations and leagues are looking at how they can minimise the practical and economic damage to their economies caused by the stoppage of international sport, and Coe believes that it is those that have taken the time to conduct self-analysis that will recover quickest.
He said: “I wear a number of hats and the two most important are I’m chairman of CSM Sports and Entertainment, and I'm also president of World Athletics. In both those organisations I think we will come out of the other side of this pandemic stronger and more resilient because we're actually understanding and absorbing some of the things that we've had to change in our own lives and in our own business practices.
“It’s a very interesting concept because everybody is saying this is very unusual that we're working remotely, working from home and not in tight-knit units anymore, but we are working effectively.”
He added: “The smart organisations that come out of this stronger and more resilient are the ones that are at this very moment almost re-engineering elements of their business. Of course, you have to focus on the immediacy of managing through an extremely difficult and turbulent time, but some of the teams need to be given the opportunity to think about products and ambitions that they can bring to market when everything comes back to normal because it’ll be those businesses and those sporting organisations that have a head start when we enter the post-pandemic world.”
The Ocean Race Summits are staged by the organiser of round-the-world sailing event to provide a showcase for innovations and discussion on measures to improve the marine environment, and the reduction in energy-use and pollution prompted by the pandemic will have provided food for thought.
Prince Albert II of Monaco, a member of the International Olympic Committee, said: “The future of our seas after the crisis could be quickly forgotten if we go back to the same patterns as before. We need to take advantage of the situation and make a concerted effort for the ocean, without delay.”
Coe has also observed the improvements to the environment, and feels that governments should look to take these further while ensuring that, following the coronavirus-enforced lockdowns, people are encouraged to participate in and have access to sport to make them more active and resistant to future diseases.
He continued: “There are two things that have come out of this pandemic for me. Firstly, that while a large part of the world is struggling to breathe, the planet for the first time is breathing properly. If you look at our large cities, you look at India, you look at China, you look even at London, we have reversed, because we've had to, some of the [deteriorating] air cleanliness for the first time in in 40 years.
“People are talking about the climate, they’re talking about the environment and they’re talking about ecological issues in the way that they weren’t beforehand.
“This is also the time for politicians to stop talking a good game and recognise that actually those communities that are fit and healthy and have access to sport and physical activity are going to have immune systems that are stronger to confront some of these challenges going forward. What does that mean? That means that every child deserves the right and the space to more sport, and we have got to build that into our long-term thinking now.
"So the two issues that I think are front and centre are going to be air and oceans and the ability of communities to become fitter and healthier and more resistant.”