Doha, Qatar, has added another major sporting event to its upcoming schedule of world championships. On Tuesday the city won its bid to host the 2019 IAAF Track and Field World Championships, the single largest running event in the world, outside of marathons like New York City and London.
Doha won over the Spanish city of Barcelona and legendary American running town Eugene, Ore. The awarding of the championships adds to the city’s secured bids for the 2022 World Cup and upcoming world championships in swimming and cycling.
International Association of Athletics Federations officials seem thrilled with their selection, though not everyone else is as happy.
Human Rights abuses are a serious problem
For anyone who has been following Qatar World Cup preparations, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have already spoken out against the selection. Last Thursday, only days before the world championship host selection, FIFA cleared Qatar officials of corruption charges against them. Over 1,000 migrant workers — largely Indian and Nepalese — have reportedly already died working construction for the World Cup and estimates suggest as many as 4,000 could die before the 2022 event. Officials have been accused of taking travel documents from workers and forcing them to work for free, a practice described in the media as “modern slavery.”
The temperature will be ridiculous
Beyond the potential problems with the labour behind preparing for the championships in the exceptionally wealthy Middle East country, the climate could pose problems in many of the events. The dates for the championship have been bumped nearly two months later than most major international championships because of the heat. The championships will be held Sept. 28- Oct. 6, a time when most professional track athletes would usually have ended their season. Even at the later date, temperatures will likely reach 37 C, well hotter than ideal temperatures for many of the events. Anyone running races farther than 800m will have trouble with the heat and many field events, where competitors are out in the sun for long periods of time, could also struggle.
The marathon will be held at night
It’s so hot in Doha that the marathon will have to be held at night. Temperatures will still be in the mid-20s — way too hot for any type of road race. It will also be very difficult to televise a distance race under a shroud of darkness. The global distance running community already struggles to make the marathon an appealing spectator sport. We should be leveraging these major international events to celebrate the sport, not creating a situation where it’s nearly impossible to make a race worth watching.
The timing is terrible
Hosting a world championships in the fall means that the best distance runners in the world will be forced to choose between racing for their country and competing for cash. As it stands, hosting the championships in the summer forces some marathoners to pick between a tough, usually hot mid-day race for little-to-no compensation or a fall major city marathon, and the promise of a six-figure payday and all the media attention that comes with winning a race like Chicago or New York City. Hosting the championship marathon in the fall will all but guarantee that the greatest runners in the world will not show up in Qatar. Berlin, Chicago and New York will remain the must-watch marathons of the fall.
There will be no fans in the stands
There’s also the question of if there will be any fan support in the country. The Middle East is not a hotbed for track and field and filling these grand stadiums the country builds can be a struggle, a problem which also plagued the recent 2013 world championships in Moscow, where there were nearly empty stands for many of the events. A Eugene selection would surely have seen a packed stadium, where thousands of fans annually flock to Hayward Field, a running shrine to the great American runner Steve Prefontaine. There’s something to be said about a smaller, packed stadium of 10,000 screaming track fans when contrasted with a massive, empty one.
The selection of Doha was what most anticipated and the bid was also closer than expected. The event will be flashy and top-notch, but there are problems with the selection, the most pressing being the exploitation of migrant workers. Here’s to hoping the officials in Qatar can make a better example with this than they have so far with the World Cup.