GLOBAL athletics Chief, Sebastian Coe played down the spectacle of empty seats at the World Championships in Qatar on Wednesday, vowing to continue to seek out new territories to stage the championships in future.
The opening three days of competition in Doha were marked by swathes of empty seats at the Khalifa Stadium, where capacity had already been reduced to a modest 21,000. Several athletes have joined the criticism over the poor attendances, questioning the decision to stage the championships in the Middle East for the first time.
However International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Coe insisted that the quality of the performances on the track had outshone the issue of the empty stadium. “We want a full stadium and that has to be the challenge but we need to focus also on the absolute quality of what we are seeing here,” Coe told reporters.
“I can’t remember a World championships actually that has delivered at this level for a long time,” he added, citing the example of Tuesday’s 800m final won by Donavan Brazier and Monday’s 400m hurdles battle won by Norway’s Karsten Warholm. Crowds have improved since the low attendances of last weekend, with more fans filling seats on Monday and Tuesday’s sessions.
Coe added that the championships had also been affected by the regional tensions, which have seen Qatar boycotted by its neighbours. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies have cut direct air, land and shipping routes, closed airspace to Qatari aircraft and restricted citizens from visiting.
“It was always going to be a challenge and this is a country that has to deal with a set of circumstances that none of us foresaw five years ago when Qatar was given the chance of hosting it,” Coe said, citing the example of a recent flight he had taken from Doha to Abu Dhabi which had taken seven hours.
“I went through Oman and sat there for four or five hours,” Coe said. “That’s a 45-minute flight. The ability to move around has been severely restricted.” Coe meanwhile said that the IAAF would continue to seek out new venues for the championships rather than rotating through traditional European strongholds of track and field.
“If we’re a global sport, we have to be seen as global,” he said. “It can’t keep going back to the same eight or nine places that we’ve always sort of focused on in the past. “There are places which are going to take longer for us to go to but people have to believe this sport is theirs, it’s not just rooted in a handful of European capital.