The 2023 World Athletics Championships held in Budapest left a lasting impression, showcasing remarkable races and athletes and marking a commendable effort by World Athletics to promote track and field on a global scale. In my opinion, the success was attributed to a few improvements from the two previous championships in Eugene and Doha.
In contrast to the picturesque, but remote, location of Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., the choice of Budapest as the host city was strategic, and the first championships that were selected under World Athletics president Sebastian Coe’s leadership in 2018. Budapest’s larger size and population provided better accommodation for attendees, athletes and media, eliminating the need for fans to book hotels hours away from the event (which they had to do in Eugene) and the headache of paying thousands of dollars for accommodation.
The location of the athletics stadium in Budapest on the famous Danube River made for easy accessibility through various modes of transportation (public transit, city bikes, taxis and e-scooters). Before the National Stadium was built, Budapest’s District IX was an industrial area used to transport goods along the Danube River. When Budapest was awarded the championships in 2018, World Athletics and the city settled on this area for the exact reason that it was not far from the city centre, along the river and easy to get to, which also made the event more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Fan interaction: A-
Another improvement was the focus on fan interaction. Unlike the previous year’s championships in Eugene, where there was little fan engagement, Budapest took a different approach. The organizers, along with sponsors like Asics, created interactive zones within the city centre and outside the stadium where fans could immerse themselves in athletics through simulation games, such as jumping as high as the pole vault world record of 6.22m (on a trampoline) or virtually racing against Usain Bolt’s 100m record. The interactive areas also allowed fans to experience the weight of a discus or shot, enhancing their understanding of what they were watching.
Outdoor festivities: B+
Another standout innovation that was introduced by World Athletics in Budapest was the fan zone medal ceremonies outside the stadium. This was a departure from traditional ceremonies and resonated with both athletes and fans of the medallists. Athletes who won gold medals were able to receive their awards in the presence of their fans and compatriots. The ceremonies also provided an avenue for athletes to connect with fans, taking photos and sharing moments of celebration. However, a drawback for the medal ceremonies was the absence of a publicly available schedule, which could have increased fan awareness and attendance.
Every night after the evening session of track and field, the medal ceremony stage featured live music and DJs for entertainment, running from 10 p.m. until midnight outside the National Stadium. I often found myself gravitating toward the dance floor near the medal ceremony stage on several occasions. The combination of the electric atmosphere inside the stadium and the pulsating beats outside enhanced the festivities, making each night a memory that added to the magic of the championships.
For nine consecutive days of track and field action, the atmosphere at the 2023 World Championships could not have been better. At the majority of the evening sessions, fans filled the stadium’s capacity of 36,000, and the crowd roared with enthusiasm, supporting every second of the track and field events. A standout memory for me was the men’s hammer throw final, where Canada’s Ethan Katzberg surged into the lead with his second-to-last throw, while the 100m final was taking place. The crowd was in awe as Katzberg pulled ahead of Hungary’s Bence Halasz, leaving just one throw to determine the outcome.
The home crowd passionately cheered for every final and wholeheartedly supported each Hungarian athlete. While hosting the world championships in a major city undoubtedly added to the energy and excitement, in my opinion, the high-level of audience engagement in Budapest was unmatched in Eugene and Doha.