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1 million people watched backyard pole vault

The case for eliminating track and field pay walls

Last Sunday, over one million people tuned in to watch three pole vaulters go head-to-head from homemade runways in their backyards. The Ultimate Garden Clash was streamed, for free, by World Athletics and gained a significant following. Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis (the world record-holder), France’s 2012 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie and American Sam Kendricks jumped for an hour, with Duplantis and Lavillenie tying for first.

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While their athleticism was obviously impressive (72 five-metre vaults between the two winners), the number of spectators is even more impressive. For a sport whose viewership has struggled over the past decade, The Garden Clash showed that people want to watch track and field, they just don’t want to pay the multiple subscription fees typically necessary to do so. This is especially true in Canada, where (with the exception of the CBC streaming the Diamond League for free) track is almost never televised and access to streams is limited geographically.

The success of the Ultimate Garden Clash comes in the wake of the disaster that was the attendance of the 2019 World Championships in Doha. The Guardian reported that Dina Asher-Smith claimed 100m silver in front of an empty stadium, save for a few journalists. French decathlete and world record-holder Kevin Mayer called the championship a catastrophe.

While some of the attention garnered by the WA event is certainly due to the empty sports calendar, the social media reach of 42 million people is certainly encouraging. Hopefully we can watch these athletes on a real runway sometime soon, and when the times comes, maybe we’ll no longer have to search for a paid American stream to do so.

World Athletics is exploring the possibility of holding other Ultimate Garden Clash competitions in the coming weeks.

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