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Athletics: Still a marginal sport

Athletics is a sport, or collection of them, in which human beings push themselves to the limit, and in the case of some, beyond. How fast can a human run? How far or high can a human jump? How can far can a human throw a given object? These are just some of the answers elite athletes strive to provide. Intriguing? One would think so, but for one reason or another, athletics somehow fails to capture the imagination in the way that, say, football or basketball do. Apart from the odd crossover star like Carl Lewis or Usain Bolt, athletics has not produced a plethora of luminaries. Why?

In all honesty, the sport has not exactly helped itself. Constant cases of substance abuse to aid performance have eroded fans’ confidence in the integrity of the sport. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has not helped either, failing to arrange a series of regular meetings that feature top stars competing against each other. In truth, the Olympics and World Championships apart, it very rarely happens and this has turned fans off.

To their credit, the IAAF has now realised this and looked to address the issue by replacing the outmoded Golden League with the new IAAF Diamond League, a series of fourteen meetings around the world that will feature the big names racing against each other. The sport’s marquee event is the men’s 100 metres and the two fastest men in the world, Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay are scheduled to go head to head at least three times. Add to the mix the fact that the third fastest man in the world, Asafa Powell, is also scheduled to compete and that at least one of the three will race at every meeting, and you have a winning recipe. Outside of the men’s 100 metres, there are many other World and Olympic champions pencilled in to compete like America’s 200 metres champion Allyson Felix and 100 metres hurdles star LoLo Jones. The IAAF has succeeded in attracting the big names by offering big prize money and they hope it will generate interest in the sport. Great.

Usain Bolt will be the Diamond League's star attraction (This image is the property of The Daily Telegraph)

Then came even more good news as the BBC announced that it will broadcast all of the meetings live, thus giving the event some exposure. BBC 1, no more likely BBC 2 I thought. Err… not quite.

The BBC has instead chosen to air the meetings on BBC 3 and ‘behind the red button.’ Yes that is right, channel 301 on Freeview. One has to applaud the BBC for broadcasting the Diamond League and their athletics coverage is always first rate with former top athletes like Steve Cram, Colin Jackson and Jonathan Edwards providing intelligent, insightful commentary and interviewing affable stars like Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt who are always willing to stop and chat. So why has the BBC chosen to relegate the event to secondary and even tertiary stations?

Allyson Felix is the biggest female star on show in the Diamond League and is also an ambassador for the event (This image is the property of AP)

In truth, it sums up the position of athletics in the sporting galaxy. If football and basketball are Earth and the moon, then athletics is Halley’s Comet, receiving attention very, very rarely. The public just does not think about it. The men’s 100 metres has always attracted interest as people are eager to see how fast the fastest man on the planet can run, but athletics has a whole has been allowed to plunge to such depths that what is an excellent initiative by the IAAF is relegated to a channel that shows ‘Gavin and Stacey’ and one that most people do not even know exists. Roll on 2012.

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Categories: Athletics
  1. May 21, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I think you’re right but it may be a chicken and the egg thing.

    When I was younger we had champions like Christie, Gunnell and Jackson and we are a far cry away from this now, for which there are many reasons, the aforementioned funding gap being one.

    Let’s hope London 2012 does the trick.

    I have to say though, I do think the BBC’s decision is disappointing

  2. John Platt
    May 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I think that a lack of British success (not seen since the Linford Christie, Roger Black, Sally Gunnell, Denise Lewis era)is one of the contributing factors to the percieved lack of interest / prestige in Track & Field.

    We desperately need to unearth another ‘gem’ in order to recapture the public’s affections. Too many times in the last decade we’ve heard how Lewis-Franics, Idowu, Pavey & Macey were going to see UK Atheltics return to the zenith of the sport, only to be grossly let down, not least by a sizeable funding gap when compared with many other major sports.

    It is hoped that London 2012 will be the cataylst that reignites our nations interest in a sport, which in my opinion is the epitome of what sport really stands for – scarifice, belief, passion, intensity & individual brilliance…

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