Coe urges kids to take up sport to battle virus

Prague (AFP) –


World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe called on children to take up sports to combat "shocks" like the coronavirus as his sport was bracing for a restart at a Czech event next week.

On Monday, "Back on Track" will bring together professional athletes,

including two-time Olympic javelin champion and world record holder Barbora Spotakova, alongside kids at 173 venues across the Czech Republic,

"I absolutely support this," Coe told Czech reporters in a video press conference. "This is the first big initiative that has come to fruition from a member federation,"

"We can work with governments to re-establish school sport, which is the bedrock of everything that we know, particularly as we come into a post-pandemic world," the 63-year-old former runner said.

"Those communities that are fitter and healthier and stronger and have good immune systems are those communities that are going to be better positioned in future to deal with these shocks."

Coe, a former British Member of Parliament, said "political will" was necessary.

"We need to really have politicians properly understanding the linkage between what we've all been through in the last few months and healthy communities," he said.

The Czech event will capitalise on an easing of the restrictive measures adopted by the government to stem the virus spread in mid-March.

At present, sports events with up to 300 people are allowed across the Czech Republic, an EU member with more than 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 300 deaths.

- 'Guided, not dictated to' -

"In the fullness of time I'm hoping that we're in a safe environment, the pandemic has been curtailed or contained, and there may be need for social distancing going forward, but at least we can have fans in the stadium," said Coe.

"There will come a point where of course you take the guidance of your medical and your scientific teams but the sport also has to make a judgment about what is in the best interests of the sport as well."

"We need to be guided but we can't be dictated to by science or just simply those medical circumstances," added the double Olympic champion on 1,500 metres.

International athletics are due to resume with the Diamond League meeting, transformed by social distancing rules into an event the organisers are marketing as the "Impossible Game", in Oslo on June 11. Many other events have been postponed, such the Tokyo Olympics, or cancelled altogether, like the 2020 European Championships.

"I hope we can start having full stadia again with our fans because it's part of the process of coming out of the pandemic world," said Coe.

"Sport will be the great driver, athletics I want to see absolutely at the forefront of that."

Coe hailed an increase in sports activities during the pandemic and singled out those improvising under the lockdown, including balcony runners or backyard athletes.

"It makes me feel very reassured because it tells me that we have the most creative, ingenious, resilient, thoughtful, funny people in our sport," he said.

"It may just be the nature of athletics, I don't know, maybe I'm biased but I am happy to say that."

Coe also said he was "saddened" by the cancellation of the Boston Marathon over the virus, announced on Thursday.

"It's one of the oldest marathons in the world and I know that it doesn't just engage elite level runners, it's very much part of the fabric of that great American city," he said.

"I'm hoping that we can maintain the road programme and the marathon majors."