"Superhuman" wanted - Bolt exit leaves vacuum to fill

''Superhuman'' wanted - Bolt exit leaves vacuum to fill

"It is becoming more accessible and more cool but then it has to take into account that it is competing with sports such as parkour."

Usain Bolt’s retirement leaves a huge vacuum to fill but athletics is moving in the right direction in rebranding itself after scandals that seriously damaged its image, according to sports marketing experts.

At one point, following serious allegations about former athletics boss Lamine Diack as well as the Russian doping scandal, the sport resembled the Jamaican superstar in his last appearance in a championship final, Saturday’s 4×100 metres relay, lying prone down and out on the track.

However, under the leadership of Diack’s successor Sebastian Coe, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body say it is beginning to take the right steps in restoring its image.

"The authorities are making it more accessible and improving its presentation and taking it into an urban environment with street races," Jon Tibbs, chairman of leading sport public relations firm Jon Tibbs Associates (JTA), told AFP.

"It is becoming more accessible and more cool but then it has to take into account that it is competing with sports such as parkour."

Michael Payne, who as director of marketing at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is widely credited with transforming both its brand and finances through sponsorship, told AFP that Coe has taken measures which has seen the sport "turn a corner" but from a "very low base".

"There is an awful lot to do post the Diack era," said Payne speaking by phone from Switzerland.

"The issues facing athletics go far beyond losing a superstar of Bolt’s stature. With no disrespect intended, superstars come and they go."

Payne, who after leaving the IOC in 2004 performed a similar role with Formula One, said Coe had brought much needed dynamism on the back of his leading the winning bid for the 2012 Olympics and then staying on to deliver a successful London Games.

"They (the sport) have to ensure they are in robust health and clearly they were allowed to drift significantly off track," said Payne.

"Coe has been instigating a drastic restructuring at grassroots level but you also need great events and London (the world championships) seen from afar has been a huge success. So they are still capable of delivering a great championships.