RBR Editorial: After London and Moscow, How do we grow the sport? by Larry Eder

I have been thinking about this piece for the past several weeks. Then, yesterday, one of my closest friends in the sport noted that "Track & Field is poorly presented, and it just has not changed its approach in the past three decades." This person should know. Having left the sport for a decade, he is now back in the sport, and sees few changes. 

So, I now ask you, how do we change our sport? 

Luzhniki Stadium, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

The Moscow World Championships was one of the best of the nine World Championships that I have attended. The level of competition was excellent, the stadium was historic and the crowd was enthusiastic. But, that is not how it was translated to many sports fans.

TIME magazines' only comment about the Worlds? Crowd was too small. Some US terrestrial TV wrote about high possibility of Nick Symmonds being arrested in Russia because of his dedication of his medal to his gay friends. Nothing could have been further from the truth. 

Symmonds was never in any danger of being arrested. Nick spoke from his heart, which is to be respected. Nick also told the Shoe Addicts that while he may disagree with the new legislation that many consider anti-gay, he was a guest in Russia. I personally watched anti-gay protests in Moscow, shown on Russian TV, which were held several days during the World Championships. Putin was doing what many politicians do; catering to their supporting group. His legislation which prohibits the dissemination of gay materials to Russians under the age of 18 is Putin's catering to his conservative base. 

Encouraging a boycott actually would hurt those who truly care of equality of sexual preferences in Russia.  The best way to change the world: encourage the free discussion of ideas: go to Sochi, don't boycott Sochi. Discuss your issues, but discuss, don't dictate. No one likes to be dictated to, whether they are Russian or Americans. 

Luzhniki Stadium seated 70,000 in current set up. Biggest crowds about 45-50,000, with 34,000 being paid fans each and every day. There has not been a full stadium for a world championship every day since Goteborg (35-40,000 seating). There were 396,000 fans in the stadium over nine days. 

That was why London was such a revelation. Full crowds each session, each day. It proved what many have thought for years: present the sport well, show fans what a great competition is, promote the sport well, and they will come. One year later, in the Anniversary Games, two days of track & field were sold out, to the tune of 120,000 over two days. Hmm, they must have put something in the water in London. 

I walked through the stands in Moscow. The Russian fans were enthusiastic, especially for their athletes. The biggest crowds were the night of Yelena Isinbayeva's gold medal performance and the last weekend of the Championships. 

I do believe that it is serious time that an outdoor Worlds be held in the United States. In order for the sport to get real global sports sponsorship and a US audience, the Worlds need to be held in the US, not merely North America. This summer, with the exception of Universal, again not available across US, Diamond League meets were available online, but that is not the same as terrestrial TV. That just is not good enough. 

US TV did an injustice to the Worlds in Moscow. NBC did weekend coverage, and Universal and NBC Sports Network did additional coverage, however most of the country neither has access to Universal nor NBC Sports Network. 

Digital coverage, from blogs such as ours, and IAAF.org site was responsible for much of the coverage that many were able to view the World Championships. Without terrestrial TV, our sport is just not seen in the U.S.

We are a global sport, with a huge audience, yet, like soccer, or football, the general American sports media neither understands nor fails to grasp the opportunities. Much of it is our own fault: a) poor presentation of elite track and field, b) lack of combining elite track with high school track audiences, c) major sponsors are footwear companies, who can only support sport that makes some business sense, d) lack of imagination used in presenting and packaging sport. 

There are as many positives, in my mind as negatives. The continued growth of high school sport, growth of running, and growth of concern regarding healthy lifestyles makes athletics a sport with amazingly positive possibilities. Like soccer, athletics needs few pieces of equipment. 

How do we grow the sport? We want to hear from you. Please send your suggestions to [email protected], attention, Larry Eder. I will compile, present and respond to them. 

Our sport has such amazingly beautiful diversity, with a global perspective. It is from the huge community, I believe where suggestions on how to direct the future of our sport will arise. 

It's your turn now, tell us what you think, please! 

#changeoursport, #futureofglobalathletics

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