Dire in Doha: world championships ‘catastrophe’ leaves athletics reeling | Sean Ingle | Sport


Moments after the greatest 10.83 seconds of her life, Dina Asher‑Smith grabbed a union flag from her mother, Julie, and began a lap of honour to celebrate her world championship 100m silver medal. But as she trotted round the 40,000‑seat Khalifa International Stadium all that greeted her were banks of empty seats and a ghostly silence.

At a stretch there were 1,000 people watching, and most of them were journalists tapping away to deadline. As Asher-Smith’s mother later tweeted, she has seen more spectators at England Athletics’ age group championships in Bedford.

The International Association of Athletics Federations, the world governing body, has promised to release a statement on Monday addressing the dismal crowds. But nothing it can say can hide that these world championships have been a PR disaster for the sport, for its president Seb Coe, and for Qatar.

When Doha first bid for the event in 2011 it promised it would “ensure that the atmosphere surrounding the world championships will be fantastic”. That was a pledge always built on sand. But at least it was made several years ago. Coe hoped it would be “spectacular” last week. Instead it has killed the momentum for track and field that was built at the London 2017 world championships, watched by 750,000 in the flesh and millions on television.

The Guardian broke the news last week that only 50,000 tickets had been sold across the 10 days of competition in Doha, and that migrant workers from Africa and India with free tickets were being transported in to bolster crowds. They have come, at times. But with no distance finals on Sunday the Kenyans and Ethiopians who have given some semblance of an atmosphere stayed away and all we heard was the sound of silence.

The IAAF has not released official crowd figures, but even though large parts of the 40,000-seat stadium have been blanked out and the capacity reduced to 24,000, it has barely looked a quarter full.

This, though, was a disaster foretold. After Doha was controversially awarded the championships – having offered £23.5m towards extra sponsorship and a promise to build 10 new tracks around the world minutes before the vote in 2014 to beat Eugene and Barcelona – the former IAAF board member Helmut Digel called it “incomprehensible”.

However José María Odriozola, a Spanish IAAF executive well versed in the lingua franca of sports politics, cut to the heart of the matter. “All Doha have is money,” he said.

For many sports federations that is enough, whatever the athletes may think. Yet with every passing hour, more of them are rising up in outrage. How, now, can the IAAF ignore Kevin Mayer, the greatest decathlete in history, calling these championships a “catastrophe”? Or claims from athletes that they are treating them as “guinea pigs” by making marathon runners and race walkers compete in 31C heat and high humidity.

On Sunday evening Adam Gemili admitted it had been a “weird” world championships, adding: “It makes the British Champs look quite good!” His colleague, the race walker Tom Bosworth, was even more cutting: “The only people carrying this sport are the athletes,” he said. “The IAAF truly should be ashamed.”

Even Denise Lewis, the 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion who is not known for rocking the boat, has stuck the boot in, telling the BBC: “Our governing body has let our athletes down massively.”

Coe continues to maintain that track and field must venture into new territories to grow. But tell that to the 1,972 athletes from 208 countries here in Doha. For many this will be the pinnacle of their careers. How sad, then, that it has turned into a nadir for their sport.


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Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/30/doha-world-athletics-championships-crowds-iaaf

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Publish date : 2019-09-30 12:28:00

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