Menu

Nowhere to run: why Doha was a ‘disastrous’ choice for the IAAF

The World Athletics Championships, in Doha, have variously been described as a ‘catastrophe’, a ‘disaster’, and ‘absolutely shocking’ by some of the sport’s biggest names.

But was anyone really surprised?

Anyone who googled Qatar+Athletics+Illustrious+History before the event might have anticipated the Sultanate’s prodigiously half-arsed response to the biennial celebration of track and field.

The 40,000-seater Khalifa International Stadium has been barely a quarter full during the first nights of athletics action as officials scramble to justify the decision to host the event in Qatar.

As television cameras pan rows and rows of empty seats, occasionally alighting on a cleaner with a bucket, the atmosphere has evoked all the zest and whoopee of an intensive care ward.

British Olympic gold heptathlete Denise Lewis has accused the sport’s governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) of ‘badly letting down’ the competitors.

And she has a point.

The IAAF is standing by its decision to take athletics ‘to new audiences’, which would be fair enough, had the Qataris felt obliged to provide athletics with a new audience.  Alas, they didn’t. Instead the Championships might be called: A Visual Representation of Indifference.

This is a dilemma that all associations who hold rotating international meetings will grapple with: do we play it safe in a city where our subject is appreciated or take a punt on a new territory?

Much will depend on the association’s vision statement – how much missionary zeal it contains. A more mundane concern will be how much can the association afford to lose financially.

(The IAAF didn’t have this problem. Doha offered £23.5m towards extra sponsorship and a promise to build 10 new tracks around before the vote in 2014 to beat Eugene and Barcelona).

Another Brit Darren Campbell, who won 4x100m relay gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, said the IAAF should consider the damage done by images of empty stadia being beamed around the world.

For him the answer is clear: “…if it means the World Championships unfortunately have to go to countries that will sell out, then that’s the way it has to be.”

I suspect most of the IAAF’s member federation’s will now agree.