Athletics' future uncertain in face of climate change, warns double Olympic champion Sebastian Coe

Athletics faces an uncertain future in the face of the changing climate, with the sport's head Sebastian Coe warning athletes are already suffering and some member countries may not even exist in the future.

Nearly 80 percent of athletes surveyed by World Athletics say they are seriously concerned about the climate crisis, and some 75 percent say their competition or training has already been affected, Coe says on the eve of the world championships.

In a summer that has seen wildfires raging, record high temperatures across southern Europe and relentless flooding in Asia, the World Athletics president says sports federations cannot rely on governments to avert the climate crisis.

Seb Coe explains the affects of climate change on athletics.
Seb Coe explains the affects of climate change on athletics. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Where would I start?" said the two-time Olympic 1500m champion. "I genuinely don't think governments are going to meet any of the targets that are being identified. 

"This is very much a personal view, I'm not speaking on behalf of World Athletics. It's something that I have felt very strongly about for a long time.

"Constituent groups like sport are going to have to figure this out for themselves, because I don't think we can rely on governments to remotely get to grips with what is going to be a massive shift in reality in the next few years.

"There are countries in our federation that will probably not be in existence in the next 20 years, because of rising sea levels."

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon and race-walking events were moved 800km north to Sapporo to avoid a repeat of the 2019 world championships at Doha, where many athletes succumbed to the heat and dropped out of distance events.

Rising temperatures forced the 10,000m to be rescheduled at the US Olympic trials at Eugene, Oregon in 2021.

"The temperature started out mid-30s," said Coe. "By the time I left those championships, it had got to 44 - and that's the relatively equable climate of Oregon."

He adds that scheduling competitions, particularly for endurance events, at times of the year when temperatures are more favourable is a consideration.

Scheduling of the 2025 worlds for mid-September at Tokyo will hopefully mean high temperatures are not as big a threat.

"We have a challenge everywhere we look," said Coe. "The welfare of the athletes for me always needs to be primary.

"It's not beyond the wisdom of all of us to figure this out, but this is a challenge that isn't going to go away. Are there countries that we're not going to be able to go to?

"Climate change is affecting everybody. Whether it's forest fires, flooding, landslides, we've got problems here and it's not limited to those areas that we were instinctively having to figure out 20-30 years ago.

"It's on our doorstep."