DIAMOND LEAGUE: YOHAN BLAKE SAYS NEW FORMAT RISKS DAMAGING ATHLETICS

Yohan Blake (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Diamond League is just an example. As broadcast begins to shape the contours of sport, there is introspection for the media also to do.

The ongoing controversy about the Diamond League’s exclusion of certain disciplines found fresh fuel with ace Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake pointing out that the move risked damaging athletics.

At a press conference in Mumbai earlier this week, he pointed out that the omission will impact athletes’ livelihood. According to reports published in the Indian media, Blake said (with reference to the decisions made regarding the Diamond League) he was unsure if Sebastian Coe, president, World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations / IAAF) was trying to build athletics or kill it. Blake is a specialist in the 100m and 200m (he is the second fastest man yet over these distances); the 200m is among disciplines affected (at least in the short term) by the restyled Diamond League format. Blake’s view on the subject was reported by leading domestic media outlets like Times of India, The Hindu and Indian Express.

The IAAF Diamond League, Wikipedia says, is an annual series of elite track and field competitions. The series began with the 2010 Diamond League. It was designed to replace the IAAF Golden League which had been held annually since 1998. While the Golden League was formed to increase the profile of the leading European athletics competitions, the Diamond League’s aim was to enhance the worldwide appeal of athletics by going outside Europe. In addition to the original Golden League members (except Berlin) and other traditional European competitions, the series now includes events in China, Qatar, Morocco and the United States.

The new Diamond League format was approved by the IAAF council in early 2019 at a meeting in Doha. Among the first to voice concern about the revamped format was Athletics Kenya (for full report please try this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/04/02/possibility-of-5000m-still-alive-in-new-diamond-league-format/). In March 2019 they wrote to IAAF about the exclusion of distances longer than 3000m. Athletics Kenya was particularly concerned by the exclusion of any event longer than 3000m from the Diamond League program next year and the reduction in the number of meetings from 14 to 13. They sought, and received assurance from IAAF that Kenyan and other East African athletes, who feature prominently in 5000m races, would not lose competition opportunities due to this process.

The IAAF confirmed that the absence of the 5000m from the official Diamond League program would not preclude individual Diamond League meetings from running the event outside of the 90-minute international broadcast window and that several meetings had already shown interest in hosting the 5000m. It was explained that the IAAF’s market research showed that producing a series that consistently featured the best athletes competing against each other was a key factor in improving the appeal of the Diamond League for broadcasters and fans. At the same time the 5000m runners, coaches and agents consulted during the process indicated that they were unlikely to run six races over that distance in the Diamond League series (in 2018 no leading athlete ran more than two 5000m races during the regular Diamond League season). The 3000m distance was selected because it was more likely to attract the best distance talent more regularly. As a consequence, distance runners will have the option of running up to seven 3000m races (including the Diamond League Final), plus additional 5000m races, across the season, an official statement from IAAF issued in the context of Athletics Kenya’s letter had said.

Even as the drama of World Athletics versus athletes over the new Diamond League format plays out in the media, it is important to note that a critical component inspiring the changes to format is the nature of media itself. This became clear in an official IAAF statement from November 2019 (for an overview please click on this link and scroll down to find relevant article: https://shyamgopan.com/2019/11/07/at-a-glance-november-2019/). According to it, the largest consumer survey yet by the Diamond League showed that it’s most popular disciplines were the 100m, long jump and high jump followed by pole vault, the 200m and 400m. “ Popularity of athletes, head-to-head competitions and excitement of the individual competition were cited as reasons for the choice of the most popular events in the largest consumer survey into the disciplines hosted in the IAAF Diamond League. Representative online research carried out in China, France, South Africa and the USA; post-event surveys in Belgium, Great Britain and Switzerland and click-throughs on Diamond League social media videos during 2019 helped guide the Diamond League General Assembly, made up of all meeting directors, to decide which disciplines will be part of 2020 season,’’ the statement said.

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of IAAF Diamond League. No copyright infringement intended.

According to it, as a result of the research, and the decision taken earlier in the year that only 24 disciplines (12 male / 12 female) will form the core disciplines at all meetings, eight disciplines (4 male and 4 female) will not be contested during the 2020 Diamond League season. These disciplines are the discus, triple jump and 3000m steeplechase – three events that currently sit towards the bottom of the research conducted – and the 200m, which the Diamond League organizers felt would be too congested alongside the 100m, particularly in an Olympic Games year. Following a detailed review of the schedule for the 90-minute broadcast window of the Diamond League, both the 200m and the 3000m steeplechase will be included in 10 meetings (5 male and 5 female) in the 2020 Diamond League season, including Oslo, Rome, and Doha. Two meetings will also feature discus and triple jump (1 female and 1 male). However, none of the four disciplines will feature in the Diamond League Final in 2020, the statement said.

“ 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. However, we understand the disappointment of those athletes in the disciplines not part of the 2020 Diamond League season,’’ the statement quoted IAAF Diamond League chairman Sebastian Coe, as saying. Needless to say, two days later, on November 8, the media reported that world champions in the 3000m steeplechase, Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto and Beatrice Chipkoech, had expressed disappointment in the Diamond League’s decision. They said that the move could affect their career. At the Olympics, Kenya has been the most successful nation in steeplechase.

According to media reports, Blake was in Mumbai to promote Road Safety World Series, a T-20 cricket tournament. He plans to commence an athletics training program in India, the reports said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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