Athletics looks to IPL for quick thrills and fills

Pretoria News Weekend - - SPORT -

AS IN­STANT grat­i­fi­ca­tion in­fil­trates ev­ery sphere of hu­man life, sport­ing codes grap­ple with the ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion of how to re­main rel­e­vant.

The senses are con­stantly bom­barded and it is no won­der peo­ple’s at­ten­tion spans are like that of gold­fish.

Sport had to find ways to keep its au­di­ence cap­ti­vated and the re­sult is of­ten a shorter for­mat of the orig­i­nal code.

This has been the case with rugby, cricket and net­ball with the shorter for­mats of­fer­ing a new rev­enue stream.

Athletics is yet to have its rev­o­lu­tion but IAAF pres­i­dent Seb Coe sug­gested track and field may soon re­ceive its long-awaited over­haul. Ex­cept for the odd Di­a­mond League meet­ing and the bi­en­nial World Cham­pi­onships, track and field events bat­tle to fill sta­di­ums.

US sprint leg­end Michael John­son re­cently sug­gested some of the events on the pro­gramme needed to be culled.

“An­ti­quated for­mat, too many events, mix of events too dif­fer­ent to cre­ate a mar­ketable nar­ra­tive. Then there’s dop­ing! All fix­able,” John­son said on Twit­ter.

This week Coe said athletics needed to look at IPL cricket, among oth­ers, to breathe new life into the sport.

“Ev­ery­thing is on the ta­ble. Frankly, I’m not rul­ing any­thing out,” Coe was quoted as say­ing by Reuters.

“The Lon­don World Cham­pi­onships was fab­u­lous but is it sen­si­ble that it runs over 10 days any­more? Do we have fewer ath­letes? Do we con­certina the World Cham­pi­onships to semis and fi­nals?

“These are the things that are on the ta­ble and I don’t want to re­move them un­til we’ve had a pos­si­bly un­com­fort­able set of con­ver­sa­tions. You’re go­ing to have to chal­lenge a lot of the or­tho­dox­ies.”

The last two years have seen panic set in over the re­tire­ment of Ja­maican sprint leg­end Usain Bolt. This in­fat­u­a­tion with Bolt did per­haps more dam­age than good for the sport, but for al­most a decade his an­tics on the track cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of non­tra­di­tional athletics fans.

Ev­ery sport needs its per­son­al­i­ties but it is cer­tainly not the lifeblood of any code’s ex­is­tence or what at­tracts most of its fans.

There has also per­haps been an overem­pha­sis on records and fast times and not enough fo­cus on ri­val­ries on the day.

The cur­rent for­mat does not work and although the av­er­age pro­gramme can fit into two hours, it is of­ten re­moved from the spec­ta­tors.

In any cull, some of the field events would be high on the list while dis­tance events such as the 10,000m may not sur­vive in the court of pub­lic opin­ion. To the layper­son watch­ing peo­ple run around a 400m track 25 times is like watch­ing paint dry, but the in­trigue of the tac­tics is what cap­ti­vates the purist.

“It’s hard for the sport to have real iden­tity when it’s spread over so many dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines,” John­son told The Times of Lon­don. “Foot­ball is foot­ball. Bas­ket­ball is bas­ket­ball. It’s very sim­ple and I think mar­ket re­search will show that peo­ple want that sim­ple nar­ra­tive. You have to sim­plify the sport and it’s dif­fi­cult to do that when you have peo­ple sprint­ing, run­ning mid­dle-dis­tance and longer dis­tance, and walk­ing. Throw­ing this im­ple­ment and that im­ple­ment. Jump­ing high, jump­ing long. It’s just too much.”

He has a point but athletics is the purest form of sport where ev­ery shape and size can ex­cel if they put in the hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. Athletics needs to change if it wants to com­pete with the big sports that are al­ready at­tract­ing some of its best tal­ents.

Some tough de­ci­sions may have to be made or some vi­sion­ary think­ing from the pow­ers that be, but at least track and field has started the process of in­tro­spec­tion.

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