The World Athletics Championships have been unreal, but where are the fans?

Wednesday should have been the happiest night of Dina Asher-Smith’s life. The 23-year-old track star had just achieved the unthinkable, becoming the first British female to win a major sprint title as she stormed to gold in the 200 meters at the World Athletics Championships, and now it was time to celebrate. 

But there was a problem. As Asher-Smith took hold of her gold medal, as the memories of years of hard work and dedication flashed across her mind and the sense of achievement started to sink in, the stadium was silent. There was no emotion, there was no colour. The Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar was empty. 

It’s been a theme throughout these World Athletics Championships. The best track and field athletes in the world have been pushing themselves to the limit, breaking records and making history, and there’s no one there to see it. Qatar’s national stadium is able to hold a capacity crowd of 40,000 people but the athletics championships have barely seen more than 10% of that.

It has not mattered if it has been Asher-Smith, or the winner of the women’s 100 meters, the Jamaican superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. It has not mattered if it has been Christian Coleman and his stunning 100 meter time of 9.76 seconds. It has not mattered if it has been the U.S. 400 meter mixed relay team, who broke the world record on Sunday. It will be the same for Scottish star Laura Muir, who races in the 1,500 meters semi-finals on Thursday. 

No matter what we have seen, the action has been met empty stands and minimal attendances. It is reducing these world championships to feel like a high school track meet.

Fingers have to be pointed at the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of world athletics, and its president, Lord Sebastian Coe. The IAAF awarded the world championships to Doha in 2014, ahead of rival bids from Barcelona and the U.S. city of Eugene (the home of U.S. athletics), seemingly turning a blind eye to a lack of interest in the sport in Qatar. 

There is no question that a world championships in Barcelona or Eugene would have sparked interest amongst locals, and there is no question that those cities would have delivered a games that would have brought noise, colour and fans. Perhaps enough to inspire new generations to get involved in the sport. 

Think back to the 2009 championships in Berlin, where Usain Bolt set the world 100 meter record of 9.58 seconds in front of almost 75,000 spectators in the city’s Olympiastadion. Think back to 2017 when London backed up a successful Olympics by putting on the most successful world championships ever and breaking the overall attendance record by selling over 600,000 tickets for the week. 

And to think that the championships are now in Doha, where just over 2,000 people watched the women’s 100 meter final on Sunday. 

By awarding the world championships to Doha, a city without any prestige or history in athletics, the IAAF has badly let down its athletes. They have deprived them of the opportunity of competing on the biggest stage and have failed to provide them with an inspirational setting to achieve their dreams. 

The world championships should feel as if they matter. Unfortunately these games are passing us by and no one is noticing. 


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