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The 2019 IAAF World Track and Field Championships have been awarded to Doha, Qatar. Congratulations to them.
Qatar is working very hard at becoming a world-class (if they aren’t already) host of international sporting events. In addition to the World track and field championships, they have also secured the FIFA World Cup of Soccer for 2022; the world’s biggest sporting spectacle after the Summer Olympic Games. They have hosted the FINA World Swimming Championships as well as the 2006 Asian Games.
But can Qatar’s largest city pull off a track meet in the searing heat?
The IAAF World Track and Field Championships include the marathon distance runs for men and women, as well as 20K and 50K race-walks and decathlon and heptathlon. The multi-sport events are competed over a two-day period of time, each. These events will be affected by the heat.
The hosts have proposed to move the 2022 Worlds to nearly a month later in the year, so that instead of them taking place for one week bridging August and September, as per usual, the meet will take place in September and October. Mercifully the marathons and race walks to start at 7:30 AM.
But it’ll be a scorcher, anyway.
Doha is located in a hot, desert climate in the Köppen climate classification BWh; which means Qatar is nearly the hottest place in the world. The daily average high temperature stretches beyond 38 °C (100 °F) and often climbs to as high as 47 °C (117 °F), during the summer. Marathons and 50K race-walk events cannot be run at those temperatures.
The ideal temperature for a marathon or the long race-walk events is approximately 10°C (50 °F). The average daily high in late September is approximately 35 degrees °C and an average low in the mid-to-high 20s. Consequently, the endurance events will have few truly world-class competitors willing to go hard for a medal.
Also in the running to host the IAAF event was Eugene, Oregon, also known as TrackTown, USA. Eugene has a long history of running and hosting competitive track meets; however, the city is small and perhaps does not have the infrastructure in place to handle one of the largest sporting events on the planet. Also they simply do not have the required number of hotel rooms to host visitors.
Vin Lanana, President of the bid told the Oregonian, “We made a fantastic bid. We had a fantastic team that came with us. It was an incredible collaboration with a whole bunch of agencies and partners that it hasn’t always been easy to get collaboration with.”
We wonder what he meant by that, was someone reluctant?
With Nike backing, it is interesting that Eugene was chosen as the prospective host city, by their organisers. All of the state of Oregon is considered a very run-friendly and endurance sport-friendly environment. Portland, the largest city is home to the North American headquarters of Adidas and the worldwide head office for Nike – the two largest shoe and apparel companies in the world. Why was Portland not chosen as a host city for the bid?
Well over 2.3 million people live in the Greater Portland area, while the state is home to nearly four million people. Portland’s temperatures are perfect for a late summer track and field event. For example in late August the average daily lows and highs are, 14°C (58 °F) and 24°C (78 °F).
Perhaps the combination of track’s popularity in Europe and Asia and the population numbers trump Eugene’s love of Hayward Field, the ghost of Pre and the iconic swoosh.
For television audience numbers, there is no argument that Europe and Asia far outweigh the buy-in level of fandom in the sport of track and field of America. There simply is no comparison. However, hosting the games perpetually in front of a converted audience does not generate new fans. If the IAAF wants to grow the sport, the final growth area prospects lie primarily in the North American market. The population in the Americas is approximately one billion people, more than half of that population is in the Caribbean, Mexico, America and Canada, there are 565 million people in Central and North America.
Examining time zones and the American populations, the Pacific Standard Time (PST) zone, which includes the state of Oregon, has an American population of 48 million people according to Google. Within three hours of time, in the three main times zones of continental America, there are over 200 million people. Greater Mexico City has a population of 21 million people and they are just two hours ahead of the PST zone; Canada has another 35 million within the three hour range. That appears on the surface to be a lot of people, but it is less than half of Europe alone.
Eugene was a risk; its population of 356,000 is no match for recent host cities like Osaka, Berlin, Daegu, Moscow, Beijing and London. The smallest of which is Berlin who have over three million people.
Was it the organising committee or one of the “difficult to collaborate with agencies and partners” error to not use Portland, Oregon as the host site for the bid to win the 2019 IAAF World Track and Field Championships?
To some degree that is the easy go-to answer. Why wouldn’t it be? It seems obvious. Perhaps the people in Oregon have a much more romantic view of Eugene-slash-TrackTown, USA, than that of the IAAF committee executive, who see the money, the population and the low-hanging fruit of the converted fans already in place throughout Western Europe and Asia as virtuous.
In terms of time zones the biggest European cities are within the three hour window for watching the sport online or on TV; where the bulk of the revenue is generated. For example Greater London has over 13 million, Greater Paris 12 million and Greater Moscow 11 million people. Europe’s population alone doubles North America, in a much more condensed arrangement, all within just two primary time zones. Moscow, Russia is three hours outside the UTC – the main European time zone.
So there is no question that the European and Asian markets are much more attractive to big sporting events and specifically track and field over Africa, South and North America and Oceania. There is a clear mandate to put on large spectacle-like events in front of the world’s largest audiences, hence the major games taking place in Asia: Daegu 2011 Worlds, Beijing Olympics 2008, Tokyo Olympics 2020, FIFA World Cup 2022 in Doha, Qatar and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, to name a few.
Should the bid committee have chosen the city of Portland as the host site? In all fairness, the International Olympic Committee asked Vancouver and Whistler to change their bid for the 2010 Winter Games name to Vancouver only, they did and they won and Whistler played a big part of those games. No one suggested otherwise to TrackTown, USA.
Saying this, perhaps Lanana and team looked at both Portland and Eugene and knew that neither city stood a chance without Nike’s backing, coupled with the romantic and nostalgic and fantastical nomenclature that “TrackTown, USA” provides, but it was still a risk. The final vote was close though at 15-12 on the second ballot.
If a lesson can be demonstrated by TrackTown, USA not winning, it is that the IAAF Executive Committee helped dispel the myth that Nike controls the running world.
The events listed below expose athletes to the heat and sun for the following estimated length of time, good luck to them in Doha, Qatar:
20km Race-walk – men – 1:20:00
20km Race-Walk – women – 1:25:00
50km Race-walk – men – 3:40:00
Marathon – men – 2:10:00
Marathon – women – 2:22:00
Heptathlon – women – two days
Decathlon – men – two days
From the website of TrackTown, USA Inc., it is a non-profit organization committed to setting a standard of excellence in the sports of track and field and running by hosting premier events, creating a supportive environment for elite athletic performances, improving facilities and inspiring the next generation of track and field athletes and fans. Our company is responsible for organizing the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships, the 2015 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships and the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials-Track & Field.