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Dr. J. on Running

Primo Nebiolo

Success Evident

Published November 22, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Primo Nebiolo, the president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), died Nov. 7 at the age of 76. During his 18 years as president of the world governing body for track and field, Nebiolo's legacy included creating the world championship and expanding the IAAF to 210 national federations, the most of any world governing body.

Nebiolo was born on July 14, 1923, in Turin, Italy. He studied law and political science, and joined the Italian national army as a volunteer. He was jailed by the Nazis during World War II, but escaped from prison, and joined the partisan movement.

His involvement in athletics began as a national-class long jumper with the University Sports Club in his hometown. He started his sports administration career in 1948 as president of that club, a position which he maintained for the rest of his life.

In 1961, Nebiolo became president of the International University Sports. In this capacity, he was instrumental in starting the World University Games. He was also the president of the Italian Athletics Federation from 1969-89, and joined the IAAF Council in 1972. In 1992, he was appointed as Member of the International Olympic Committee.

Nebiolo's leadership of the IAAF was characterized by a no-nonsense approach to problem solving, a flare for business dealings and an autocratic management style.

When Nebiolo was elected president of the IAAF in 1981, the organization was housed in a run-down prison neighborhood in London, employed a staff of three, and had an annual operating budget of about $50,000. In 1996, the IAAF moved to a modern multi-million dollar complex in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and its annual operating budget grew to more than $40 million and boasted a turnover in the billions.

Within two years of his election, Nebiolo presided over the first world track and field championship, held in Helsinki in 1983. Several more championships followed as interest in the sport grew. In a systematic strategy to raise the profile of track and field, Nebiolo established the Golden League Circuit of European meets.

Nebiolo's success in reviving European track and field is evident to the casual visitor to Europe. On any summer night, a channel surfer is bound to find a track meet broadcast live on some television channel. In a phenomenon never seen in America, even the men's 10,000-meter races are televised live in their entirety.

In an effort to combat a decline in public and athlete interest in between Olympic years, Nebiolo scheduled world championships in track and field every two years on odd years. He used his position on the International Olympic Committee to push for a larger share of Olympic revenues. His success in securing large advertising and media contracts led to the introduction of prize money to the world championship starting in 1997.

In August, Nebiolo was elected by acclamation to another four-year term as IAAF president, after running unopposed for the fifth time. His death left a leadership void in world athletics. He was a lone leader, and as such, he did not groom a potential successor. Under the IAAF's constitution, first vice president Lamine Diack of Senegal took over as acting president. The duration of Diack's presidency and the date for a new presidential election were to be decided by the IAAF's ruling Council at a meeting in late November.

At last summer's world championships in Seville, Nebiolo looked back at his presidency:

"I hope there will be good memories of me," he said. "I am happy and proud that I found a sport without money, offices, staff, without any TV contracts or great competitions and, with a group of good friends, created something which changed the face of athletics.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at

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