BERLIN (Reuters) - Athletics will retain its prominent position despite changes to the Olympic programme that could see fewer events but more sports, IAAF presidential candidate Sergey Bubka said on Tuesday.
The Ukrainian, who won a pole vault gold medal in the Games, six consecutive world championships and set 35 world records, is taking on Britain's Sebastian Coe in a race to become the head of the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Fellow IAAF vice-president Coe, a double 1,500 metres Olympic champion and chief organiser of the London 2012 Games, announced his candidacy late last year. The election is set for August.
Bubka said planned changes to the Olympics, allowing more sports at the expense of some events and disciplines of existing competitions, would not affect athletics.
"We are very proud to be the number one sport of the Olympics and we have a strong position within the movement," the 51-year-old told Reuters in an interview.
"The IOC looks to make the programme attractive and I am confident athletics will keep its strong position," said Bubka who is also an International Olympic Committee member.
International federations have been jostling for position since the changes were voted in late last year, with some IOC members also proposing the scrapping of athletics competitions including the triple jump.
"I think we will keep 47 events with 2,000 athletes. We will be in the same position as before but we need to look closely and cooperate," Bubka said.
However, with a shortage of recognisable personalities, an ageing audience, a continuing struggle to attract interest in the United States and the dark shadow of doping, athletics has its work cut out.
Much of his presidential manifesto is based on cooperation, with the Ukrainian Olympic Committee president and successful businessman wanting to empower national federations to maximise reach and profit with the help of the IAAF.
"More decentralisation and make continental associations stronger," he said of his plans. "When we make strong national federations we can be very powerful and very successful."
Bubka also wants to boost the fight against doping, with athletics once more in the spotlight after recent revelations regarding the use of banned substances by Russian competitors.
The Ukrainian great, who unsuccessfully ran for the IOC presidency in 2013, said an extraordinary meeting of all stakeholders, from athletes to broadcasters, would be needed to review all aspects of the sport and come up "with a road map".
Bubka said it was positive for the sport that both candidates were former top athletes.
"I think it is good because you have a very good background for athletes. It means you have different kinds of experience and knowledge. This is very helpful to transfer to the success of the leadership of the IAAF," he explained.
Asked whether other federations, specifically world soccer's under-fire governing body FIFA, should follow suit, he said: "It is very positive.
"If we look at Olympic history we see more and more former athletes involved in sports administration. I think this is a good direction."
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)