Heading into 2017, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the survival of athletics and reengaging with youth. With Mo Farah leaving the track and Usain Bolt retiring, the sport was in need of new superstars. However, the sport I love more than anything has continually surprised.
Starting with the last ever IAAF World Youth Championships, the IAAF made the decision to end the event this year indefinitely, but they certainly went out with a bang. Never before has there been huge capacity crowds of that level at an age-group athletics championships. Against the odds, the city of Nairobi, Kenya, held a fitting end to what was a brilliant championship and hopefully birthing stars of the future.
Despite the retirement and shortcomings of stars such as Usain Bolt and Mo Farah failing to accomplish the results they wanted, the recent IAAF World Championships in London proved that we do not need huge stars to keep our sport alive.
I was fortunate enough to be in the stadium that night, watching Usain Bolt line up for his swan song in the men’s 4x100m relay final, even thinking about it now makes my hair stand on end. Despite the fact that Bolt pulled up injured in the final stages of the race, seeing Great Britain’s men bring home the gold in a close battle with the USA was electrifying. The buzz of the home crowd was like nothing I had ever witnessed, within the space the sport had been revitalised. There was a changing of the guard and athletics is once again standing on it’s own two feet, without the crutch of it’s superstars.
Merit must also be given to the IAAF, the sport used to, and currently does have a huge doping problem. However, this is not a problem exclusive to athletics, as much as many would have you believe, no other federation has dared to provide a blanket ban to a country before. With widespread doping and corruption present within Russian athletics, the IAAF was left no choice but to make an example out of them, but also this year they allowed Russian’s who complied with the IAAF doping regulations to compete. And it was a bittersweet moment to watch Maria Lasitskene take the women’s high jump title, happy she had the opportunity but sad she couldn’t compete under her own flag, however it was an important moment for the integrity of our sport.
With all of this in mind, it is brilliant to see the progression of the sport, whilst not forgetting athletics still has a long way to go. In regard to the sports popularity, there is clearly a market for it, given that pretty much every session of the IAAF London World Championships had sold out. However, it should also be highlighted that when the champs have taken place in other cities around the world such as Osaka, Deagu and Moscow, there has been a real struggle to fill the stadium. This is a huge shame given that it is a world championships, so in regard to awarding future championships to cities, perhaps the IAAF should bare in mind that the champs are often most successful in western Europe (Berlin, London), where there is a definite market for it.
However the location of the champs is not the only issue, fundamentally, athletics needs to appeal to the younger generations to maintain longevity. Whilst it is clear the IAAF are making an effort to make the sport more spectator friendly with events such as The World Relays and Nitro, there is still seemingly a disconnect. I personally believe the route is through social media, utilising the likes of Snapchat and Instagram to engage with younger fans, creating competitions and building a rapport with the audience will be integral for gaining these potential fans (however this is a whole other blog post where the discourse needs to be opened up).
To conclude, in the year 2017 the sport has faced and tackled a lot of issues. However there is no denying that there is still a huge mountain to climb. Tackling these issues head on, and not brushing them under the carpet anymore is how athletics can be fully eradicated of it’s present issues.