Fast Running coach Tom Craggs is watching the World Championships in Doha as a fan of the sport and we’re sure the thoughts running through his head are similar to a lot of our readers.
What must have been going through Lord Coe’s mind as he breezed onto the airless start line of the World Championship women’s marathon last night?
Stepping off a golf cart without a drop of sweat to mark his pristine suit the former endurance star has done enough hard miles on the road to know what the athletes behind him were about to face.
As he took his place amongst the dignitaries I couldn’t help thinking it was a little like Caesar looking down on gladiators and slaves in the colosseum. The inevitable happened. Around 40% of athletes dropped out despite the pedestrian pace at the race started at. Only the top seven broke 2:40.
Athletes who gave every bit of themselves for months of hard training set up to fail on what should have been one of the proudest moments of their lives.
This builds on the irony of atmosphere having to be pumped into a half empty stadium at vast monetary and environmental expense. Literally pouring cold air into atmosphere already as chilled as you might expect given the rent-a-crowd audience looking on.
It seems symbolic for where we are at the moment in world athletics. All the sugary social media in the world cannot deflect from reports of stadiums packed with bussed in migrant workers and amdist more relvations on suspicious payments made to IAAF officials.
I fully understand the IAAF’s desire to spread the sport. There’s a lot of money in that. I am however confused about how an empty stadium, and races where 41% of the field cannot finish contribute to spreading the appeal of athletics? There is an overriding feeling that money, greed and corporate interests will leave us with a championships heavy on polish, light on soul.
I don’t spread a sport from the top down. You dont drive participation and fans by throwing billions at at problem. Holding a major championships seems to make more sense to be the icing on the cake of a nation’s passion for a sport not a way of creating a passion that doesn’t exist. Even of this honestly were the goal of the IAAF the empty stadiums tell us it’s not suceeded. Of course there may be a longer term legacy for participation and interest in athletics in Qatar but there evidence from the past doesn’t leave me with much faith.
Of course, as always the athlete’s will save the IAAF and the games. They always do.
The athletes will still provide a fine show
The problem with criticising a games is that it somehow feels it takes something away from the athletes competition. It doesn’t. Quite the opposite the athletes who toed the line last night were faced with unique challenges.
A midnight start, crippling humidity and uncertainty about whether the race was going to go ahead right until the last minute. Every one of those athletes should command our respect. There were incredible performances with 2:17:08 marathoner Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya winning in 2:32:43 and 41 year old Roberta Groner of the USA running 2:38:44 for sixth.
Charlotte Purdue will have prepared as well as any British athlete could possibly have prepared. My heart goes out to her – a hugely talented athlete who works incredibly hard and was valiant in the face of a an international federation whose priorities seem further from athletes than ever before putting every obsticle in her path.
Will the rules and politics bring the demise of our sport?
However all three Ethiopian athletes, some of the favourites for the win, dropped out before halfway. In tough conditions 28 of the 68 starters didn’t make the finish on the seven lap course. What will happen in the four to five hours of race walking in the 50km at the same time tonight where only 24 women and 46 men due on their respective start lines.
Even one of the more crowd pleasing moments of the Champs, Braimar Suncar Dabo of Guinnea-Bissau helping Jonathan Busby of Aruba to the finish in the 5000m, was tarnished by the IAAF. Social media was awash of pictures and videos of the emotional moment that showcased one of the true values of our sport.
The IAAF even tweeted about it themselves, taking the clicks and likes, before DQing Busby, who was nearly five minutes back from the winner.
Not a new opinion
Of course none of these opinions are new or original. Far better informed and more eloquent people than me have been saying this for a long time and predicted what we are now seeing.
Last night however crystallised opinion into fact. Doha is the Games where sports governance seems to lost touch with its core purpose.
In a political age of ‘double-downing’ on bad decisions let’s not hold our breath for those in sports governance positisions to accept the errors that have been made.
Let’s get behind the athletes now, cheer their incredible talent and hard work and dedication, but when the heat and humidity of Doha is over let’s take a long, cold look at the IAAF who are there to represent our athletes and our sport.