World Championships organisers respond to criticism over attendances

The Khalifa International Stadium has been barely half full for the World Championships.

By Press Association Published: 30 September 2019 - 4.18pm

World Championships organisers have blamed the start of the working week in Qatar and TV schedules for poor attendances.

The IAAF, athletics’ governing body, has come under fire for wretched crowds in the opening three days in Doha.

Just 13,288 people – including 1,484 guests – watched the first session on Friday while attendances declined in the following two days.

The Women’s 200 metres heats take place in front of banks of empty seats
The Women’s 200 metres heats take place in front of banks of empty seats (Mike Egerton/PA)

France’s decathlon world champion Kevin Mayer has called hosting the championships in Qatar a disaster while Denise Lewis, who won Olympic heptathlon gold in 2000, said the IAAF had let the athletes down.

The Khalifa International Stadium holds 40,000 but the capacity has been cut to around 21,000 for the championships and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) has now responded to criticism.

A statement read: “After two solid days of attendance, (70 per cent on day one and 67 per cent on day two), numbers were down on our expectations on day three, under 50 per cent, which coincided with the start of the working week in Qatar.

“We are confident that our renewed efforts will encourage the local community to come and witness the stunning performance of the world’s best athletes.

“The challenge we face with a competition schedule that is geared to support global TV viewership is that some finals are not starting until the late evening.

“This impacts on the number of spectators remaining until the end of the session. We know it is a balance and we are pleased global viewers can tune in to watch the live action from Doha.

“We are confident with our additional communications, we will see more attendees for longer periods.”

The Khalifa International Stadium was virtually empty when Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the 100m title on Sunday, with Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith claiming silver.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, right, beats Dina Asher-Smith to 100m gold
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, right, beat Dina Asher-Smith on the line but few fans were there to see it (Mike Egerton/PA)

But the LOC still defended the decision to hold the Championships in Qatar.

The statement continued: “Our vision was for a first World Championships in the Middle East. An IAAF World Athletics Championship that would welcome the world and connect to new fans.

“Despite facing unique challenges as hosts, in terms of the political blockade, that ambition remains. To date we have witnessed over 80 different nationalities in the stadium, the vast majority enjoying athletics for the first time.

“Whether it is understanding athlete performances in endurance events or stadium design, this championship is benefiting world sport and important progress is being made.”

“I watched Dina’s victory lap and that was a bit heart-breaking because what she did was insane and there was no one there. I feel like she was robbed of that moment”
- Dina Asher-Smith's team-mate Beth Dobbin

But Asher-Smith’s team-mate Beth Dobbin admitted it was “heart-breaking” to see the 23-year-old perform her lap of honour in front of so few spectators.

Speaking after competing in the 200m heats in front of yet another sparse crowd, Dobbin said: “There’s not as many people as there should be. Because it’s my first (World Championships), I’ve nothing to compare it to. If I’d been to London (in 2017), I might be a bit deflated.

“In Berlin (at last year’s European Championships) I didn’t look up into the crowds because I didn’t want to get nervous. Here, I didn’t want to look in case I was disappointed.

“I watched Dina’s victory lap and that was a bit heart-breaking because what she did was insane and there was no one there.

“I feel like she was robbed of that moment. But that shouldn’t take away from how good the athletes are performing.”