Alan Hubbard: Coe versus Bubka, the heavyweight clash for IAAF Presidency

Alan Hubbard

As a former parliamentarian Lord Coe - then plain Seb - knows what it was like to fight an election. So he will be well suited for a bout of tasty political scrapping having formally declared his candidacy for the Presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Doubtless his familiarity with the hustings will stand him in good stead in the upcoming set-to with one-time chum Sergey Bubka when the 213-strong IAAF electorate go to the polls in August of next year to determine a successor to long-serving former Senegalese judge Lamine Diack.

And the fact that London 2012's award-winning spinmeister Mike Lee has been brought in as Coe's PR "campaign manager" suggests that his Lordship is aware that the contest may not be quite the shoo-in many anticipate.

Ukraine's pole vault icon promises to fight Coe tooth and nail for one of the most prestigious posts in global sport. The word is that he has started to garner support, notably from allies in Eastern Europe, and will be suggesting that Coe's many other commitments undermine his ability to do fulfil the role effectively.

Coe certainly seems be treating his campaign as seriously as he did when elected (albeit for just one term) as Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne in 1992.

Hence the acquisition of Lee to the Coe cause. After setting up his own agency, Vero Communications, post-2012, ex-UEFA spokesman Lee has built a formidable portfolio which includes the successful, if highly controversial, championing of Qatar for the 2022 football World Cup, the Rio Olympics in 2016, Pyeonchang's 2018 Winter Games, the 2018 Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, the inclusion of rugby sevens into the Olympic programme and significantly the election of Britain's Brian Cookson as President of of the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Seb Coe announced his candidacy for President of the IAAF where he will battle with Ukrainian Sergey Bubka ©Getty Images

Seb Coe announced his candidacy for President of the IAAF where he will battle with Ukrainian Sergey Bubka ©Getty Images

Lee's influence is already evident with British Olympic Association (BOA) chair Coe, 58, calling a media conference at BOA headquarters tomorrow to unveil his IAAF presidential  "manifesto" for a campaign which even has its own logo: SEBCOE2015.

It is likely to be one which includes the-reshaping of athletics to appeal to a younger audience.

"I want us to have a renewed focus on engagement with young people and a real understanding of the global landscape that is shaping the next generation of athletes and fans," he tells us.

"If we are guided by these principles as we review and reform our sport then I am convinced that athletics can enter a new era with confidence and ensure a bright and exciting future."

Fighting talk. Just as well because 50-year-old Bubka will also have a heavyweight in his corner. Literally so - the giant Vitali Klitschko, the now retired former world champion and courageous anti-Putin political activist who has become Mayor of Ukrainian capital Kiev.

At the height of the Ukrainian civil unrest they were on different sides of the nation's political divide, but have now united with "Dr Ironfist" backing Bubka all the way in a bout which could turn nasty.

For there are reports that Bubka is prepared to "fight dirty" by focusing on the many and varied hats worn by Coe, and even suggesting that his day jobs could bring a conflict of interests.

Could this become the athletics' very own grudge match? If so, it is one fight fan Coe will relish.

Once he and Bubka were the best of buddies, but latterly the relationship has cooled.

Sergey Bubka will be in the race with Seb Coe to become the new President of the IAAF ©Getty Images

Sergey Bubka will be in the race with Seb Coe to become the new President of the IAAF ©Getty Images

Yet they have much in common. Both are Olympic legends and prolific world record breakers in their respective disciplines; have served in their national parliaments and are IAAF vice-presidents who head their domestic National Olympic Committees (NOC).

However Bubka's personal reputation took a knock when he backed the wrong side during Ukraine's political in-fighting and he also received flak as President of the Ukraine NOC when one of his senior officials was suspended over a London 2012 ticket-selling scam.

And the phenomenal pole vaulter certainly set the bar too high by challenging for the Presidency of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), of which he is a member, getting only four votes out of 92 in a second round ko last year.

This Presidency is a perch many believe Coe could occupy one day but first he must to get on to the IOC itself. Becoming head honcho of world athletics would automatically guarantee him the seat that could be his springboard for a loftier ambition.

Much may depend on who 81-year-old Diack wants to succeed him as IAAF chief after 16 years. For some time it was thought Coe was to be the anointed son and he certainly gained brownie points by insisting that London's Olympic Stadium remained a home for athletics after 2012, and a venue capable of hosting a World Championships, which it will do in 2017.

But Bubka clearly has other ideas by putting it about that unlike himself, Coe would be only a part-time President.

This summer Coe was strongly tipped to become chairman of the BBC Trust but after indicating initial interest he declined to put himself forward, declaring: "On reflection, I haven't the capacity and I now want to concentrate on my current commitments and the IAAF election. As everyone knows, athletics is in my DNA."

He also ducked out of another potential electoral tussle, repeatedly rejecting overtures from Downing Street to run for Mayor of London because he preferred to eye the IAAF prize, insisting: "My future is in sports politics, not real politics."

Sergey Bubka has claimed that Seb Coe's roles in other organisations such as the British Olympic Association will have dire effects on his ability to perform as a full-time President of the IAAF ©Getty Images

Sergey Bubka has claimed that Seb Coe's roles in other organisations such as the British Olympic Association will have dire effects on his ability to perform as a full-time President of the IAAF ©Getty Images

But even as a no-Coe area, sport could figure prominently in the 2016 Mayoral race.

The former Olympics Minister Dame Tessa Jowell, surely the best-equipped among the declared runners to become Labour's candidate, believes that if selected she could be facing a shock choice from the sporting world in the battle to succeed Boris Johnson.

Jowell tells insidethegames there is growing speculation in Westminster circles that the West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady - now Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge - is being wooed by the Tories as their choice to stand in 2016. "The feeling is that their candidate will come from the House of Lords and there is a lot of talk about approaches being made to Karren Brady," says the woman who as Culture Secretary first persuaded a reluctant Tony Blair to bid for the London Olympics during Labour's administration - and was instrumental in getting Coe appointed to lead the London bid after American Barbara Cassani unfortunately proved a square peg in the Olympic rings.

It is no secret that, having repeatedly failed to persuade Coe to run, the Conservatives are anxious to field a high profile personality to try and follow the idiosyncratic but popular Bojo.

Brady, 47, has the profile. The "First Lady of Football", previously managing director at Birmingham City and currently right hand woman to Labour peer Lord Sugar on TV's "The Apprentice" is, like Jowell, London-born. She is politically ambitious and is a close friend of both David Cameron and George Osborne. She also sits on Sport England.

Should she be interested the timing could be right as by the time of the election in May 2016 she will have overseen West Ham's move into the Olympic Stadium, a remarkably benevolent deal which she helped orchestrate. However she would face a formidable opponent in 67-year-old Jowell, by far the most electable of those vying to be the Labour candidate, who include London MP's David Lammy and Diane Abbot and former politician and rugby international Derek Wyatt.

Karren Brady looks like a likely candidate to run for Mayor of London after Seb Coe refused the opportunity to run in order to focus on his campaign for IAAF Presidency ©Getty Images

Karren Brady looks like a likely candidate to run for Mayor of London after Seb Coe refused the opportunity to run in order to focus on his campaign for IAAF Presidency ©Getty Images

Jowell says she often chatted with Coe when they were on the 2012 Board about the possibility of them both running for Mayor. "We are good mates and joked that maybe we should do it as a job share!"

So what about those other jobs? Are they really a crucial factor in the IAAF election? Does Coe have too many fish to fry?

The executive chairman of CSM Sport and Entertainment is also global advisor to Nike and works with Chelsea FC, as well as a columnist for The Daily Telegraph.

He is also listed as strategic adviser and ambassador of PruHealth and PruProtect's wellness programme 'Vitality' and Senior Independent Adviser, Deutsche Bank UK.

But he has promised that if he is elected to become the first British IAAF President since Lord Burghley, the 1928 Olympic 400 metres hurdles champion who held the position from 1946 to 1976, then he will devote himself to that role..

Which leads to the question of whether he could remain in one of his other principal posts as BOA chair. This must be highly doubtful.

If he does vacate it after the Rio Olympics then a strong candidate to take it on would be the former Sports and Olympics Minister Sir Hugh Robertson.

He is known to be considering standing down as an MP at the next election and has the pedigree for a top job in sports administration. It would make him the second ex-Tory Sports Minister, after Lord Colin Moynihan, to run the BOA.

Meantime it's seconds out for Seb v Sergey showdown. Can't wait. Ding, ding.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Games, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.