"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change." Charles Darwin


Sebastian Coe's manifesto as he toes the start-line in the race for presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations made radical proposals. This is a sport where the average age of followers (49) is unsustainably high, according to Coe. As we suggested before he said so in his manifesto, athletics must be overhauled, streamlined, rebranded and repackaged, or its appeal will be compromised along with its pre-eminent role of the Olympic programme.

Coe's hat had barely landed in the IAAF ring before the International Olympic Committee voted on an agenda for sweeping reform. The movement's resistance to change is legendary, but dinosaur views are no longer appropriate and the indications are that the new president Thomas Bach is bent on transformation.

This will almost certainly be painful. Agenda 2020 was coincidentally approved in Monte Carlo this week, almost within triple jump range of the IAAF headquarters.

From Tokyo in 2020, it was agreed that the Games will be restricted to 10,500 athletes and 310 events. London 2012 had 11,000 in 302 disciplines across 26 sports. The current cap of 28 sports has been lifted, but future additional ones must be confined within the 310-event cap.

This affords hope to squash (which lost out when wrestling was restored to the programme) and to baseball and softball which were axed in 2005 along with wrestling which became the first sports to be dismissed from the Olympic programme in 69 years (since polo was removed).

It is harder to be thrown out of the Olympics than it is to get in, and that tells us how hidebound by tradition the IOC has been.

Rejection struck wrestling like a thunderbolt and the uproar was deafening. They were voted back in after just seven months, without ever being omitted from a Games.

The sport astutely played the tradition card: according to legend, Zeus wrestled his father, Kronos, for control of the world on Mount Olympus, and then founded the first Olympic Games to honour his victory. His 41-foot statue there was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This myth underpins wrestling's claim to be the original sport. Yet it was temporarily sacrificed to retain modern pentathlon, the only sport to have been invented for the Olympics, by the movement's founder, Pierre de Coubertin.

Squash did not have ageless pedigree to call upon, so they hired a corporate public relations firm Vero to help them, the same company Coe has enlisted for his IAAF bid.

A huge battle is now in prospect within the Olympic rings: tradition and history versus the future. It promises to be messy and passions will be inflamed.

Modern pentathlon has already revamped its format, to help spectators instantly identify leaders and winners. Instead of a mass start to the final discipline (cross country), competitors leave at intervals, based on how far behind the leader they are. Instead of points being awarded, and totals being worked out as in the decathlon and heptathlon, the first athlete across the line is demonstrably the winner. But it may take more than that to save modern pentathlon.

Baseball and softball amalgamated in a vain bid to remain on the programme. The fact that the leading US professionals can't agree a formula that will ensure the inclusion of the globa elite dooms them. The IOC observe that leading professionals in basketball and tennis compete in the Games. They assuredly will not settle for second best in baseball, a sport which struggles for true pan-global identity. Golf is on the programme for Rio in 2016 on the basis that the world's best will compete.

Permitting more than 28 sports may appears to help but the cap of 10,500 competitors is the stumbling block in the move from a sports-based programme to an events-based one.

This is where life becomes complicated for athletics. They have more places than any other sport. The 47 disciplines (47 gold medals out of 310) engages some 2200 competitors, more than a fifth of the total permitted Olympic complement. Coe's comment in Monaco, that track and field has to be vigilant in protecting its status, was a statement of the obvious. Richard Pound, IOC member and one-time head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, suggested that the triple jump might be sacrificed. Coe retorted that the event was "sacrosanct".

That's the problem. Every event on the programme is sacrosanct to aficionados of whatever discipline. Remember the fury when cycling axed the kilometre, Sir Chris Hoy's 2004 Olympic gold-medal discipline?

Imagine the uproar if the triple jump were deleted from the programme: Jonathan Edwards's iconic word record in Gothenburg 19 years ago would become a devalued non-event. Nobody free of doping taint has subsequently been with a foot of Edwards.

Yet Edwards himself confessed to lying in bed, musing: "I jump into a sand pit for a living; am I doing anything worthwhile here?"

If the triple jump goes, a little piece of Scottish sporting history will be a victim of "progress". Triple jump flourished in Border games, with recorded world bests dating back to 1826, pre-dating the founding of the world's first national athletics association by more than 50 years, the first modern Olympics by more than 70 and the world athletics body by 86.

Nothing dictates that sport remain the same forever. Athletics, and the Olympics, must evolve or die. The javelin changed in weight and design on safety grounds: it could be thrown on to the track. Modification preserved the event but destroyed it for anyone who had thrown the old model. Legalising the Flop destroyed the high jump for those who favoured the old-style straddle and western role.

Reshaping athletics and the Olympics will come at a price, but it is one we almost certainly have to pay to preserve the broader picture.