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Sports Matters Q&A: Seb Coe says sports world ‘shifting east’ to Asia


As the keynote speaker at Sports Matters in Singapore, SEBASTIAN COE talked about sport’s ‘shift’ towards Asia, highlighting the increasingly important roles played by China, Japan and Korea on the world stage.


Coe, 57, made his name as one of the world’s greatest-ever middle-distance runners, winning two Olympic golds, two silvers and setting 12 world records. In 2005, he famously headed London’s successful bid to win the 2012 Summer Olympics before becoming Chairman of the event’s Local Organising Committee and overseeing a hugely successful event.


In 2007 he was elected a Vice-President of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) and was re-elected for another four-year term in 2011, while in November 2012 he was appointed Chairman of the British Olympic Council. In November 2013, Coe was announced as Executive Chairman of CSM Sport and Entertainment, which operates a host of companies operating in the sports industry across the globe and increasingly in Asia.


Interview SportAsia


In your role as Executive Chairman of CSM Sport and Entertainment, how do envision the company increasing its activity in Asia?

I think it’s going to be a very important market place for us. Singapore is our 21st office. It’s more than an office; it’s our regional headquarters, as we have offices in Hong Kong and Shanghai as well. We already do some work in Singapore around the Grand Prix, we did some work around the Youth Olympic Games in 2010 and the WTA. We do a lot of things in Singapore and the rest of Asia.


For us Asia is going to be a very, very important market place. The world has shifted east and with it sport. Sport is not hermetically sealed from that. In my own sport of track and field, I see Asia as one of the largest growth paths if we get it right. For my sport and any others in the world, I think it has massive potential.


Sebastian Coe interviewed following his keynote speech at Sports Matters. Photos: Branded / Sports Matters.

Sebastian Coe interviewed following his keynote speech at Sports Matters. Photos: Branded / Sports Matters.

China, South Korea and Japan are clearly the big drivers in track and field, but I want to see those drivers have a broader impact across Asia, particularly Southeast Asia.


With Chinese sports stars Yao Ming, Li Na and Liu Xiang enjoying global attention over the past decade, do you see a close link between the growth of a country’s economy with its production of sports stars?

There’s no question about that, as seen in the investment China is making in sporting coaching structures. I was in Nanjing for the Youth Olympic Games and I had very interesting discussions there with Chinese sports authorities. They are here and they are here to stay. Their contribution to global sport will only get greater.


The work and investment that they’re putting into coaching – which is very much something I approve of – is going to be not just a driver for Southeast Asia but those coaching skills are going to be transferable globally.


In your keynote speech, you said “Korea uses sport in a smart and interesting way”. Can you elaborate on that?

If you look at the way they use sport as a part of nation building, particularly in advanced economies … if you look at the next few years, there are a lot of sporting events. You’ve got the Winter Olympic Games (Pyeongchang 2018), you’ve got the Universiad next year, which is going to be really, really important. It has staged a [FIFA] World Cup already and it staged a successful Summer Games in 1988. We had a very, very successful IAAF Championships in Daegu in 2011.


Every time I’ve been to one of these events, particularly recently, these have not just been outlets for competition; they’ve really used the values for young people, they’ve really driven sport into communities. I think they’re a very interesting template for the way sport sits alongside other very important drivers in their communities.


Korea built 10 new stadiums for the 2002 World Cup that haven’t all been well utilised since, while there has been criticism of the usage of the Bird’s Nest after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. With an eye on Tokyo 2020, do you believe London 2012 – for which you headed the bid – has set a blueprint for how to the develop the infrastructure for major events?

I do. I think that there is now much more of a recognition that sustainability is not one of those words that you just throw round at conferences. In its broadest definition, sustainability really means enshrining that concept from the very opening stages of any bid.


The most important thing we really did was making legacy a very, very important part of the entire process, even when we were bidding. We were the first city to enshrine legacy in our master-planning document and that document was out in public, published within a year-and-a-half, so no one in London was in any doubt at all about what was going to happen to those venues. If you look at the Olympic Park, which was really the regenerative element of the Games, eight permanent venues all have long-term legacy tenants.


How you design a stadium in a bid phase is in large part going to determine the life of that stadium beyond the Games. It’s no longer acceptable to build bigger just because the last event was big or to have local communities that at best can only press their noses up against these venues and at worst are paying local taxation to keep them running when nobody has given any real prior thought to what that legacy looks like.

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