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The head of the International Association of Athletics Federations Sebastian Coe believes the sport is viewed as being "boring" by young people today and needs radical changes in order to survive.
The embattled boss made his comments during an interview for a documentary due to be broadcast on the BBC on Saturday and also suggested the season needs extending while the World Championships needs to be shortened.
"In four years I want us to look completely different," he said.
"This is about survival, doing radical things. I have to put to the back of my mind it's an unpopular thing to do. "Has what we are watching changed dramatically since we were competing? Yes, in little ways.
"But people were prepared back in 1983 to sit through nine or 10 days of a World Championships. They are not going to do that now.
"We have to be realistic. Will we have a World Championships format that is shorter? No, not straight away. Will we have that in five years? We have to.
"We go from September to May when there's not a lot to be talking or writing about," he said. "We have got to remedy that and to look at extending the season.
"We probably have to go into climates where we can compete and develop those markets."
Coe, who enjoyed huge success in his own career, winning Olympic gold in the 1500m in 1980 and 1984, also believes the sport needs to improve its' social media interaction with fans and to also have the very best athletes competing against in each other more often.
"We've been really bad at that (using social media platforms)," he continued. "If you look at football, tennis, American sports, they've all got great social media platforms. We're only scratching the surface of that in our sport.
"Agents and managers at the beginning of the season say 'our guy is going to have a quiet year'.
"It's a bit like selling season tickets at Barcelona and saying Lionel Messi is only going to play one in three games. You don't do that."