What is the IAAF up to?

November 8, 2019 - by Blog

This week saw the announcement that Diamond League Athletics meetings will no longer feature the 200m, 3,000m steeplechase, discus or triple jump at all of its events in 2020.

The IAAF claimed the decision was in response to research they conducted on the popularity of events and wished to cut the length of meetings to a “90-minute broadcast”. Click-throughs on Diamond League social media videos also helped guide the governing body.

“Our objective is to create a faster-paced, more exciting global league that will be the showcase for our sport. A league that broadcasters want to show and fans want to watch,” IAAF president and Diamond League chairman Lord Coe said.

Judging by reactions on social media, it appears the announcement has been universally condemned by athletes.

The outcry has led 7x Diamond League Champion Christian Taylor to launch “The Athletics Association”, an athletes union formed to “fight for athletes rights” for all professional track and field athletes around the world.

If the IAAF is genuine about making track and field a spectator-friendly sport for everyone across the world their approach appears to be a false start. The surveys were reportedly conducted in China, France, South Africa, USA, Belgium, Great Britain and Switzerland – as well as data from Diamond League social media videos. The IAAF was apparently missing any data whatsoever from Africa (with East African fans widely heralded as the saviours of the recent world championships in Doha) that would likely have looked very different to the previously mentioned countries. It also seems contrived that more countries were not surveyed after the IAAF was at pains to point out 43 countries won medals at those same world championships.

What some would find even more baffling is that the governing body of athletics would deliberately decrease Dina Asher-Smith and Noah Lyles’ time in the spotlight, as the 200m stars have been lauded as the poster-girl/boy for the Tokyo Olympics. These superstar athletes – with an appeal that transcends track and field – should be given as many opportunities as possible to shine and draw in new audiences to the Diamond League.

Perhaps the IAAF’s approach to condense the Diamond League into a 90 minute broadcast package (down from two hours) to create “a more consistent, action-packed format for broadcasters” is the wrong approach. Instead of trying to follow cricket’s lead with Twenty20, the IAAF should look to tailor the Diamond League to an online audience that can choose what they want to watch. There is an online audience waiting for them as a recent survey in the UK showed the total number of subscribers to Sky’s Now TV, Amazon Prime and Netflix services hit 15.4 million surpassing the number of pay-TV subscribers at 15.1 million.

Another model the IAAF could follow is the NFL’s highly successful ‘Redzone’ programme which is a whip-around show covering off all of the live games to show every touchdown from every game. It’s easy to see how this could work in a split-screen setup and keep within the IAAF’s 90-minute broadcast package.

It feels like athletics’ governing body is either determined to push ahead with a Stone Age approach of creating a 90-minute broadcast package, or hasn’t thought of anything else.

About author
Adam Tranter

Adam founded Fusion Media in 2007 from a passion for cycling and the media. Over the last ten years, he has successfully grown the company to lead the way in communicating cycling and endurance sport to the mainstream. Adam was a former racing cyclist and has also worked as a freelance journalist, contributing to cycling and national publications, including BBC News during London 2012. He is passionate about getting more people on bikes.

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