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The disaster that is Doha

The World Athletics Championships is one of the highlights of any athletes career. Opportunities to win Gold at the World’s comes round maybe twice in a lifetime for these athletes and the Championships are an opportunity to put athletics on the map. Athletics has been beset with issues of drug cheats, some at a state wide level (think Russia). It’s increasingly in the shadows of sports such as football, rugby, cricket and F1. It’s lost some of its household names – Farra, Ennis, Bolt and Semenya. This is why it could not be more important that this World Championships, the Championships of 2019 shows the sport off in its greatest light and that the stage befits the huge occasion.

Farah storms to World Gold in 2017

When Doha was awarded the World’s in 2014 eyebrows were raised. Everyone’s worst suspicions were confirmed when then IAAF president Lamine Diack, the Senegalese businessman who was ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and money laundering, following a four-year investigation in France. Doha however was going ahead regardless and athletes and the public were willing to give it a chance but the first few days could not have gone worse.

Kevin Mayer is maybe the world’s greatest athlete that you have never heard of. He’s the world champion decathlete; a discipline that requires a multitude of skills – ones that are so complex (Pole Vault for example) that it’s a miracle that decathletes get to the levels they get to – often able to compete at an international level in the single form disciplines. So, when one of the greatest athletes on the planet calls the current World Championships hosted in Doha a “disaster” the sporting world sits up and takes notice.

So, what is the problem with Doha?

The championships started on Friday and the Women’s marathon was forced to start at midnight given the extreme heat in Doha. Even starting at that time was not enough as 28 runners – who’d built their entire season around this one race – were forced to drop out due to the searing temperatures and suffocating humidity.

The best athletes in the world deserve the best of crowds but so far the attendance of the Khalifa International Stadium has been pitiful. For the Women’s 100m final there was barely anyone in attendance.

The French world record holder went on to say “We can all see it’s a disaster, there is no-one in the stands, and the heat has not been adapted at all,”

Denise Lewis commented that the IAAF “have let the athletes down” and it’s hard to disagree with her. Two nights ago, the Men 50km walk took place and was eventually won Portugal’s Joao Vieria and Vieria was interviewed after the race and said of his win “For me, it was hell – very, very hot,” Vieira said. “How did I cope? Just a lot of ice and cold water.” Vieira was left distinctly unhappy at the 23:30 start time (and finishing time of 04:30) “That’s the time to leave a nightclub. I usually go to sleep at 10 o’clock in the evening,” said Vieira. 14 of the 46 athletes were forced to quit such were the extreme conditions.

The problems don’t end there. Many feel that Christian Coleman should not even be allowed to compete as he’d missed three doping tests in twelve months but was still allowed to compete in Doha. Track legend Michael Johnson said prior to the competition that the three missed tests meant it “completely disqualifies” him from being the face of the sport. So there was an air of inevitability when Coleman romped home in the 100m winning in a time of 9.76 seconds. Who dead he beat into second? The former disgraced drugs cheat Justin Gatlin who has been allowed to compete again after serving his ban. With a stadium near enough empty for the marquee event and for that event to be dominated by athletes with serious question marks over how clean they are it left a bitter taste in the mouth.

In terms of Britain at these Championships they too have suffered. Lynsey Sharp, ranked 4th in the world, failed to qualify for the Final. Adam Gemili also failed to qualify for the 100m final and Holly Bradshaw finished in an agonising 4th place in Pole Vault. Dina Asher-Smith has though delivered but the greatest performance of her career was carried out in front of almost nobody.

Those who run athletics (the IAAF) have serious questions to be asked of them and it’s not hyperbole to say that unless these Championships change dramatically, and quickly, then the damage to the sport could be felt for many years. Tokyo can’t come quickly enough for both athletes and for fans.

The legions of empty seats for an event that should represent the high watermark of the sport are not a good look and sadly this is what happens when money and kickbacks are put before sport. It makes you think that 2022 World Cup is destined to be an even bigger farce and the only hope is that it will mark a watershed moment for international sport because perhaps the governors of these sports will realise their product is nothing without the fans and without the athletes that compete. If you put both in the shade for too long the product will suffer and the governors will eventually lose out. We just have to hope that lessons are heeded soon before any more sporting disasters occur because lets face it, what is happening in Doha is a disgrace and its impact will be far reaching.

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