Usain Bolt believes athletics needs a shake-up to make it more exciting for fans of a sport that has been “missing a superstar” since he hung up his spikes.
The fastest man in history captured the world’s attention during his stunning, medal-laden sprint career, winning 100m and 200m gold at every World Championships and Olympics between 2009 and 2016.
Nobody looks likely to break Bolt’s world records over those distances any time soon, nor does anyone look able to fill the void left by the Jamaican superstar and showman.
But the 36-year-old, who retired in 2017, believes athletics can thrive if tweaks are made to ensure it is more attractive and exciting.
“I think the sport now is maybe just missing a superstar,” Bolt told the PA news agency.
“I mean, when I left people were looking for the next person who is going to step up and really shine and stand out. I think that’s what the sport is missing right now.
“I think also we’ve talked about it for years that the sport needs to change the way it’s set up but that’s for next time because I think we need to make it a lot more exciting.
“I think that’s a problem with track and field. It’s not as exciting so people don’t want to watch.
“So, if you don’t have a superstar that stands out like I did, then it’s going to be hard to draw the big crowds and draw that attention that you want.”
US sprint great Michael Johnson recently tweeted that the number of fans who love athletics is “shrinking”, highlighting the need for better storytelling and marketing.
Bolt believes the sport “needs to be changed a little bit” and “adjusted” so people can be “excited and enjoy watching the meets and stuff”.
“We have talked about it for many years, but nothing has happened,” he said. “But I can’t do by myself, so hopefully the IAAF (now known as World Athletics) will look into it and change a few things.”
While attempts to make the sport more engaging are needed, there will be guaranteed eyeballs on athletics when the Olympics takes place in Paris 16 months from now.
This summer’s World Championship in Budapest comes before that, with Bolt excited by some of the talent in the men’s and women’s 100m.
“The girls are spectacular – they’ve really kept the Jamaica flag flying high,” he said of the likes of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, who completed a Jamaican 1-2-3 at the Worlds last year.
“For me, that’s so exciting to see. I believe in the girls, and they will continue to do great stuff. Without a doubt.
“They really are hungry and I’m just hoping the guys will step up come the next Olympics and really shine.”
On the men’s side, Bolt – who has signed up to play in Soccer Aid for UNICEF on June 11 – said: “I think Fred Kerley is one that’s really stepped up from the 400m and really dominated the 100m. I think he’s going to be great.
“There’s a young kid from Jamaica called Oblique (Seville). He works with my coach. He’s coming up, he’s really young and he has a bright future ahead.
“He came fourth in the World Championship last year so, for me, those are the two that I am really watching him to see where they’re going to go.”
Tickets for Soccer Aid For UNICEF are on sale now via www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets with a family of four able to attend for just £60 – two adults and two children.