POSTED: 2012-05-09 05:05:09
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AJU GEORGE CHRIS / Doha Stadium Plus
May 9 - In 1949, Broadway actress Carol Channing sang ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.’ Fast forward, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) would like the world to sing “Diamond Leagues are an athlete’s best friend”.
It has a compelling case. In ’10, the IAAF initiated a risky move, replacing the money-spinning six-city Europe-based Golden League with the 14-stop Samsung Diamond League. As a result, the elite competition travelled to Asia and America for the first time.
It received a strong backing from Samsung Electronics, which extended the initial two-year deal by another season in January. According to the world body, around 290 million TV viewers watched the ’11 edition while close to 400,000 spectators attended the meetings.
“This is excellent news to the IAAF, the Diamond League meetings and, of course, Samsung,” said IAAF President Lamine Diack, after renewing the contract.
Despite the euphoria, those in the know argue the league is still a ‘diamond in the rough’. Several issues need to be addressed before the meet can pride itself.
A global competition should ideally travel to all parts of the world. The current league calendar has two meets in Asia (Qatar and China), as many in the US (Eugene and New York) and 10 in Europe (Italy, Norway, France, Monaco, Sweden, Belgium and two each in Switzerland and the UK).
Nations from Africa and the Caribbean are conspicuous by their absence in the hosting scene. IAAF Communications Manager Yannis Nikolaou, in an e-mail interview with Doha Stadium Plus, said the world body would consider moving to new locations next year.
“There’s a procedure regarding future changes. One of the keys will be the overall evaluation of different meetings. After the current season, the General Assembly of Diamond League AG, the company running the events, will evaluate each meeting as well as new applications from interested cities and decide accordingly,” he said.
They need not search too hard as some candidates have already spoken up. The nine-year-old Jamaica International Invitational, which was promoted from an IAAF area permit meet to a World Challenge last year, has already staked claims for diamond status.
“I’m pleased with how the event has developed. It has steadily grown in stature within the track and field world. It has moved from an area permit meet and now we’re seeking Diamond League status,” said Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association President Dr Warren Blake recently.
South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee President Gideon Sam is also reportedly keen on bringing the meet to his nation.
The unequal distribution of host cities remains an issue. So is the league’s policy of treating each of the 16 men’s and women’s disciplines on equal footing. While some feel the elite event is a great ‘leveller,’ there are others who do not buy that argument.
“In theory, equality among disciplines sounds appealing. Field athletes, in events like shot put and discus throw, could never have imagined getting so much publicity. But one shouldn’t forget that track events are far more glamorous. At the end of the day, organisers prefer events that attract the crowd. Naturally, there’s more demand for plum events like 100, 800 and 1,500M rather than shot put or javelin throw,” said an official, who did not wish to be named.
But interestingly, the event received full backing from legendary Qatari sprinter Talal Mansour.
“In the Golden League, only athletes from select disciplines got to compete for the $1m grand prize. Now, the format is better because irrespective of discipline, everyone stands a chance to win the Diamond Race. Track events shouldn’t be given preferential treatment. All competitors train hard. We should respect their efforts,” said the four-time Asian Games gold medallist.
Amid talks of equality, the IAAF seems to have completely forgotten hammer throwers. They have been excluded right from the beginning and a separate competition, the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, was started along with the diamond league. And Nikolaou defended the decision.
“The main reason for their exclusion is the practical difficulty with the stadiums. In many cases, meetings are hosted at football grounds where matches take place a few days before or after our meetings. In some cases, stadium owners are reluctant to permit hammer throw events as there isn’t enough time for grass to recover before football matches.
“There’re also some safety concerns from meeting organisers. Most of the one-day meetings are only of maximum three-hour duration. There’s no guarantee that all stadiums can accommodate track and field events as well as hammer throw within that time with adequate safety conditions,” he said.
However, German woman hammer thrower Kathrin Klaas countered these arguments in her website www.kathrinklaas.de.
“Javelin and discus are also considered ‘long throw’ disciplines and it can be argued they’re equally dangerous. So what happens if a spectator is struck by either of these implements? It’s clear hammer is in no way more dangerous than any other throw event,” she said.
“Damage to football field is another oft-repeated argument. With modern technology, it’s possible for a ‘green keeper,’ after a rain game, to repair damaged parts of the turf by replacing it with new turf. Considering the largest hammer is 121cm in diameter, there shouldn’t be a problem replacing a hole of this size when they do the same for large sections of turf after game-day damage,” she argued.
As the debate for inclusion of hammer throw rages on, one cannot help but feel the IAAF has followed a system of trial and error with the league. Diamond League Ambassadors was a very good idea on paper, but practical difficulties forced the world body to do away with the system from the second edition onwards.
“A few marquee performers were contracted to appear in a certain number of meets. But when some of them got injured midway, they couldn’t fulfil their obligations. The system was scrapped the very next year,” said an IAAF official.
“Similarly, the league promised a certain number of head-to-head races between top athletes. While theoretically brilliant, it was practically difficult. For example, Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell were supposed to race against one another at least four times. Gay got injured and the hyped-up races failed to materialise. We should aim for realistic targets,” added the official.
However, Nikolaou felt the meets lived up to expectations.
“Compare the last edition of the Golden League (’09) and the first two of the Diamond League. It’s crystal clear that in most disciplines, head-to-head competitions involving top athletes were achieved. We’re optimistic of reaching our goal of 100 per cent in the coming years,” he said.
Athletes themselves seem to have varying opinions about the elite competition. While some blamed it for wreaking havoc with their plans, others spoke in glowing terms.
American Carmelita Jeter, the 100M women’s Diamond Race winner in ’10, said the concept required more work.
“There’re some things that I feel should be improved to make a good concept better. More races need to be added. I had about 40 to 50 per cent less competitions due to the split programme concept. Only seven of the 14 cities hosted my discipline. Hence, I was never able to fall into a race rhythm,” she had said, soon after the ’10 season.
But her compatriot Allyson Felix, a 200 and 400M specialist, felt otherwise.
“This event allows me to race against some of the best athletes in the world. It has helped me become sharper and more prepared for the season. This is the Olympic year and I’ll use the Diamond League meets to prepare for it,” she said.
Most athletes who open their season in Doha on Friday will also have the London Olympics at the back of their minds. As a result, this year’s event looks solid with some potentially interesting duels coming up. But the situation was very different last time around when a clash of dates with other meets resulted in the Doha event losing its sparkle.
Nikolaou admitted as much.
“Injury problems and a clash of dates with the Kingston and Kawasaki World Challenge meetings prevented some top athletes from competing in Doha. It made the meeting look weaker. However this year, the field is very strong and one of the best ever. The IAAF is already working on the ’13 calendar with the aim of avoiding clashes between the World Challenge meetings and Diamond League,” said the Greek official.
Pushing the meet further down the season is an idea worth considering. Italian Sandro Giovannelli, the IAAF’s Athletes Consultant who is in charge of the Doha event, felt the idea held merit.
“Being an Olympic year, athletes aren’t keen to travel too far too early. We thought of interchanging our competition dates with Shanghai (May 19), but it didn’t work out. One should seriously consider holding the meet in Doha much later, maybe even in September, when athletes would’ve far lesser chances of injuries,” he said.
The idea is sure to bring out the old argument of summer heat, which was a reason for Doha’s loss to London in the race for the ’17 IAAF World Championships. But Kenyan 800M runner David Rudisha gave the Qatari capital a vote of confidence.
“It may be very hot during the day, but at night when we race, it isn’t too bad. It isn’t a problem at all for 800M runners,” he said.
IAAF Vice-President Sebastian Coe, who is also Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, had not minced his words about the state of athletics when the diamond league was launched in ’10.
“Track and field is everyone’s second favourite sport. The problem is that not enough people nominate it as their first. No change was not an option. We’ve lost market share and television coverage.
“Far too many core track and field events no longer have TV contracts and crucially, the sport has gently slid off the radar for many young people, particularly in the developed world. The Diamond League is only a start. But it’s a good one,” he wrote in The Telegraph newspaper.
Two years on, how far the idea has moved past the starting point is still up for debate.
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