Now that Sebastian Coe has started his role as International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) chief he will no doubt be inundated with ideas on how to take the sport forward. Here are my own thoughts.
Learning from other sports
IAAF needs to speak to other successful sports governing bodies to learn how they increased their audience and revenue.
Coe and his team could learn from those figures who run English Premier League football, Formula One racing and also promoters like Barry Hearn of snooker, darts and boxing fame. IAAF should also consult the organisers of international professional tennis and cricket’s Indian Premier League.
How Barry Hearn has managed get up to 3000 fans per night to watch live world championship darts at Alexander Palace in early January is a miracle.
The largest potential TV market for athletics is in the US. The US has been one of the most successful nations in the sport. Yet the US TV audience rarely gets to see live international athletics.
When major events like the recent World Championships is on you hear stories of US fans scrambling online trying to catch some live coverage. Some US-based Jamaicans head home to Jamaica for their holidays so they watch see the championships in real time on tv.
IAAF need to negotiate their US television rights to media groups (s) that will guarantee live tv or radio coverage of their major events. This year BEin Sports has started to show the Diamond League live to US cable users.
IAAF could develop their own dedicated television channel for cable/satellite viewers in order to spread the sport.
Regular Participation of Athletes
The top athletes need to compete against each far more often during the year. IAAF cannot expect a sport to be consistently attractive to the major sponsors or curious viewers when the biggest rivalries such as Bolt vs Gatlin happens just 4 times in 3 years i.e. less than 40 seconds per year.
If Gatlin vs Bolt occurred more often throughout the season then the doping stories – like we just had – would grab less of the headlines.
The IAAF must do better to promote the rivalries in the sport that are not Bolt/Gatlin. e.g. The outstanding women’s 200m race with Dafne Schippers, Allyson Felix and Elaine Thompson in Brussels tomorrow has had little publicity. IAAF should be doing a lot more to push this race in the media.
The IAAF cannot have a consistently high profile sport if their star athletes decides – as Bolt did in 2014 – to take a year off because there is no incentive to compete. IAAF need to make sure the athletic package they are delivering each year is relevant and lucrative for all top athletes to take part.
The likes of Roger Federer or Serena Williams never take lengthy absences (unless injured) and they are on the courts a lot longer than their track and field counterparts. Tennis stars can ill-afford lengthy voluntary breaks as it would seriously harm their rankings.
The IAAF could consider ranking athletes based on their body of performances. Currently an sprinter can win one race in the fastest time of the year and not win another race yet still be ranked as the world number 1.
The term World Championship looks hollow at times and can be misleading as countries are restricted to 3 (4 incl. defending champion) athletes per event. This year up 13 of of best women (by times) in the 100m hurdles were from the US yet only 4 could qualify for the World Championship. The same can be said of the Kenyans and Ethiopians in the long distances races.
World Championships should be open all top athletes based on performance and not by nationality. This change could prevent top athletes – from nations such as Jamaica, US, Kenya, Cuba – switching their allegiances to other nations.
The prize money of $60,000 for the World Championship winner looks low. Especially when the winner of 2015 World Darts championship received $375,000. This year World Darts champion Gary Anderson took home more money than Bolt did for winning his sprint races in Beijing.
At Wimbledon tennis players who reach the last 32 are guaranteed around $115,000.
The current main outdoor athletic season runs from mid May to early September. 5 months of top class athletics looks too short. Just like other sports the outdoor athletic season could start down under from January-February and end in September.
The athletics calendar should have far more top class meets across the regions of Australasia, Caribbean, South America, Asia and Africa. Athletic nations such as Australia, Canada, Jamaica and Kenya should be hosting more international top class meets.
In 2007 Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu won the World Championship gold medal in the 400 metres. She had just returned from a ban after missing 3 out-of-competition drug tests.
During a post race interview Christine remarked that her training had gone smoothly during her banned period. I thought “you were allowed to train during a ban?” Is that fair on the “cleaner” athletes?
The same scenario applied to Lashawn Merriitt when he won the 400m at the 2011 World Championship. Merritt returned from a 2 year ban (reduced to 21 months) in May 2011. 3 months later he won the world title.
- Should banned athletes be allowed to train and be guided by IAAF approved coaches during their period of suspension?
- Should banned athletes be allowed to use state/IAAF funded facilities such as running tracks for training purposes?
In horse racing when a jockey has been found guilty of a serious offence they can be banned from riding professionally and exercise riding at local stables. Sometimes jockeys are banned from all racecourses.
Future Hosts of the World Championship
Given the overwhelming successes by Caribbean and Africa nations at the World Championships since it began in 1983, it is high time that both regions get to host the event. The likes of Bahamas, Jamaica, Kenya, Trinidad, Ghana, Nigeria and Cuba come to mind.