As World Athletics launches its ‘Global Conversation’, chair of the Working Plan Group, Willie Banks, celebrates its importance in shaping the future

World Athletics this week launched their ‘Global Conversation’ about the future of sport. This initiative is intended to give everyone involved in athletics an opportunity to help shape its future by boosting inclusivity, create a diverse environment and allowing the global athletics community a chance to have their say.

Input from participants all over the world will be used to develop ‘A World Plan for Athletics 2022-2030’ to ensure the growth and development of the sport in all corners of the globe.

The Global Conversation comprises an online survey available in 12 languages that can be completed by any individual wanting to contribute to the direction they wish the sport to go in.

Former American triple jumper Willie Banks is chair of the World Plan Working Group who will oversee the process and results of the initiative and how they will be implemented.

Banks cemented his place in the history books with the invention of ‘the crowd clap.’ He remains engrossed in the world of athletics and is using his own experiences in order to maximise the effectiveness of this plan.

In an interview with AW, the former world record holder stressed how important stakeholders are in shaping the future and how social media is integral to creating a plan that is a “driver for innovation”.

“Innovation is going to be key and working with broadcasters and using social media is vital,” he says. “We’ve seen that there are times when we’re going to have adversity, and we’re going to need the assistance of our partners and stakeholders in ways that we never could have imagined.

Willie Banks (Mark Shearman)

“So, we’re hoping this helps us develop creative ways to allow our partners to make their contribution to improving our sport. We’re also going to work with broadcasters to help make athletics more entertaining and with our media so that they can utilise their own social media and platforms and make it more accessible to the ordinary fan.

“We’re going to change the structure of our programme to meet the new way of thinking and engage with a young audience. If we don’t keep up with the younger generation and if we don’t create ways of reaching them, we’re going to lose them. We need to increase our fan base using the platforms that appeal to them and understand the ones that could exist in the future.

“Our future in this area can be shaped by responses to the survey and allow us to recognise important trends. There will be people out there who are aware of the direction these platforms are going and if we can harness these, we can maximise our use of them and continue to grow.”

Banks was quick to celebrate the positive impact World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has in steering the sport in the right direction and keeping it relevant for all.

“Our president, Lord Coe, has put us firmly on the right track and used his political background to support this. He uses the idea of listening to your constituents to shape your future and adapted it to athletics. This is what we are doing with our community and our stakeholders. It’s the best way to understand them and provide a tailored, sustainable and strong service.

“So his vision is to change the sport; not the world of athletics. It’s a fine difference but an important one.”

Banks remained adamant that this is a watershed moment for athletics and is looking forward to reaping the rewards of the survey.

“This is one of the greatest projects I’ve ever been lucky enough to work on. I truly believe that out of this we are going to get the deepest and most diverse data any federation has ever had in a sport. I understand that there are still going to be hurdles and challenges but as we create this tailor-made plan, we will be able to meet the challenges of an ever-changing environment.

“The world we’re living in now is in a way we have never know it before. Not just the pandemic, but a social upheaval that we have never seen. So we have to meet these challenges and this plan is what will enable us to do that.

“In the United States during the last year we’ve been through the MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, environmental changes and huge government shifts. We can’t ignore these and we must keep listening to the people if we want to make a change. I hope I can have a positive impact as chair of the committee and use my own experiences to help me do the best job I can.

“When I was part of that Moscow 1980 boycott, it sparked a global conversation. But now we don’t want to have to go to those extremes again because it hinders athletes and stops them from participating. So in creating a plan that is tailored to the athletics community across the world, we can prevent extreme measures and keep our sport safe, inclusive and in touch with the future.”