The ongoing World Cup Rugby in Japan and the World Athletic Championships in Doha offers widely contrasting study on the importance of picking the right host for a major international sporting event.
Close to half-a-million people have attended the rugby spectacular with 47,000 fans witnessing Japan upset Ireland last Saturday. It was announced even before the first scrum in Japan that 95% of the tickets offered for sale were snapped up.
On the other end of the scale the world athletic championships, the official figures puts just 13,288 people – including 1,484 guests watching the first session. The marquee 100m finals saw only a couple of thousand fans at the 40,000 capacity Khalifa Stadium. The stadium capacity was reduced to just 17,000 for these championships, with most of the top tier of the seating covered up.
Like political rallies in many third world countries, the organisers were said to have been forced to bus in people, in this case military personnel, to give the event a semblance of bigger crowds over the past few days.
With a population of just over 2.6 million, and almost 2.3million of them being expatriates from countries like India and the Philippines, you can hardly expect the stadiums to be filled.
Indeed there was a big Indian crowd for the mixed 4×400 relay as the Indian team was in contention. But they all left immediately after that, not waiting for the blue riband events scheduled.
Qatar hosted the 2006 Asian Games with better crowd, mainly because the variety of sports that attracted their foreign expatriate population.
This time, the championships was also not been able to attract fans from neighbouring including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, who have all severed diplomatic ties with Qatar.
The poor attendance has prompted criticism from many quarters including some of the athletes themselves.
France’s decathlon world champion Kevin Mayer and former Olympic Heptahlon champion Denise Lewis were among the athletes, who were critical about the poor attendance at the meet.
IAAF supremo Sebastian Coe, seems to have take the criticism way too hard as he has in recent days personally attacked the credentials of some of the critics.
But his reported dig at athletes was certainly unbecoming of the former champion runner. He had claimed that athletes talking about externalities were probably not the ones who were going to be walking home with medals.
No matter what Coe thinks, hosting the world athletic championships in Doha, does raise plenty of questions. In fact it is already shrouded in controversy.
French judges are investigating the USD4.5m paid by the organisers of the championships to companies linked to former IAAF president Lamine Diack and his son, former IAAF marketing executive Papa Massata Diack, hours before Doha won the right to host the event.
The Qatar organising committee had also sent the IAAF a letter promising to build 10 athletics stadiums around the world the day before the 2014 vote.
Qatar is also hosting the 2022 World Cup, while the number of fans for the World Cup is likely to be much better because of the global following for football, there are still concerns on local support.
The Qatar Stars League, their top level football league, is said to have attracted less than 1,000 spectators in average for the 2016/17 season.
Like the World Athletic Championships, awarding Qatar the FIFA World Cup was also fraught with controversies. Allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights violations has plagued the biddign of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Even when Doha won the bid to host the 2006 Asian Games, it was not without controversy. With last minute lobbying and favours, they won the bid over favourites Malaysia and Hong Kong. Both countries expressed their bitter disappointment with Malaysia claiming that the selection of Doha was ridiculous and that it was influenced by Qatar’s economic wealth.
Doha, who are also hosting the inaugural World Beach Games from October 12-16 this year, are now also planning to bid for the 2030 Asian Games. Whether the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) would again be swayed by the economic strength of the middle east country instead of core issues remains to be seen.
Doha bid unsuccessfully for both the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Game but failed to make the International Olympic Committee (IOC) shortlist, because of their proposal to host the Games outside the mandated months of July and August.
The IAAF were not worried about similar problems when the picked Doha to host their premier athletic event this year. The women’s marathon saw almost half of the participants failing to finish the race. This despite the event starting at midnight to curtail the effects of the heat and humidity in Doha.
International sports associations faced with increasing financial burdens have been trivialising sporting concerns in favour of economic reasons and it may not augur well for the promotion of sports.
Let’s take a leaf out of the Japanese model with World Cup Rugby and perhaps sports would be appreciated more.