YOU’VE been training all your life and you qualify for one of the most important athletics event of your career. You’re excited beyond measure, proud of what you’ve achieved, all the hard work is finally paying off.
You walk out onto the stadium expecting to hear a roar from the crowd cheering you on to perform your best, but you are met by eerie silence and the only warmth you receive is the suffocating heat of the desert climate.
Of the, 40,000-seat stadium only some 1000 seats are taken during the Doha World Athletics Championships events. And even then, many of which by journalists covering the event.
In one of the greatest 10,83 seconds of Diana Asher-Smith life, the British sprinter began a lap of honour to celebrate her world championship 100m silver medal to an empty stadium.
Asher-Smith’s mother stated that she had seem more spectators at an English Athletics age-group championships in Bedford than at the World Championships.
The organisers have since blamed the start of the working week and an event schedule designed for European TV audiences. But the excuse is poor and the truth is simple, these world athletics championships have been a PR disaster for athletics, for the sport’s president, Sebastian Coe, and for Qatar, a country which has spent the past decade buying up rights to host major events, including the 2022 football World Cup.
The current situation fuels the initial controversy surrounding these championships when Doha was polemically 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.
Decisions made, but the true price paid is by the very athletes. Many of whom claim they are being treated as “guinea pigs” by a governing body that has forced marathon runners and race walkers to compete in 31C heat and high humidity, which has led to some being carried off the course in wheelchairs.
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.”
Michael R Payne, the former marketing director of the IOC, has added. “You can build the greatest stadiums, you can have unlimited budgets to do incredible ceremonies and make it all work, but you do need to have to people in the stadium,” he said. “I think it is incomprehensible for athletes in any sport to compete in their world championships in front of an empty stadium – it’s an empty cathedral.”
However, Coe continues to maintain that track and field must venture into new territories to help spread the word. Not the most convincing argument to put forward to the 1,972 athletes from 208 countries trying to perform to their very best in an empty stadium at a World Championships.
In comparison, the London 2017 world championships, which were watched by 750,000 people in the flesh and millions more on television.