Empty stands, oppressive heat and claims of corruption - how Doha's dream is falling apart

This has become all too familiar a sight at the world championships (PA Images)
This has become all too familiar a sight at the world championships (PA Images)
16:00pm, Tue 01 Oct 2019
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The performances have been stellar but it seems everything around the athletes in Doha is less so. 

Empty stands, blistering heat, marathon runners being carted off in ambulances and, oh yes, the ongoing allegations of corruption surrounding the event being held there in the first place.

Twenty-eight thousand and two hundred seats out of a 40,000 capacity at the Khalifa International Stadium were empty on the opening day of the World Athletics Championships. 

And when the prodigious talents of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and GB's own Dina Asher-Smith collided in the women's 100m final, it is estimated no more than 1,000 spectators saw them cross the line.

All this making something of a mockery of the host nation's bid document in 2017 with its simple aim: "The goal is to have no empty seats." 

Before the start of the championships, it was reported that almost 80,000 tickets had been sold across the 10-day event. But the images being beamed from inside the stadium on our television screens tell a different story.

As Fraser-Pryce and Asher-Smith crossed the line, there was almost no one watching (PA Images)

Olympic gold medalist Denise Lewis lambasted the IAAF: "I walked into the stadium tonight and looked around and said: ‘Is this the World Championships?’ We’ve waited to October to have stands like this – empty. Absolutely shocking. Our governing body has let our athletes down massively."

Following the ghost-town appearance on the opening day, the IAAF themselves expressed concern over the attendance figures, which allegedly reached 70 per cent and 67 per cent capacity on the first two days, with Sunday falling well below that.

The timings are also a key issue. Not until the final day will we see a final take place before 8pm local time and over the next four days there will be as many as 15 events taking place at 10pm local time or later. The 800m heptathlon and 1500m decathlon will take place after midnight on Thursday.

By contrast, the previous world championships held in London two years ago saw a record 705,000 people attend. 

But empty seats are not the only blot on the Doha copybook.

The opening night saw 28 out of 68 runners pull out of the women's marathon during the race, which is the most in a world championships women's marathon this century. The temperature that night did not drop below 30 degrees and the humidity was above 70 per cent for most of the race.

This year's world championships women's marathon saw the most withdrawals this century

The heat did not confine its disruption to the marathon. Inside the stadium, which is the world's first with a built-in air conditioning system, athletes competing in the 3000m steeplechase heats earlier in the evening fell on the floor after crossing the line.

Decathlon world champion Kevin Mayer told L'Equipe: "We can all see it's a disaster, there is no one in the stands, and the heat has not been adapted at all."

The temperature inside the stadium is understood to be approximately 25 degrees celsius, with the forecast for the remaining days of the championships remaining characteristically very hot and unlikely to drop below 37 degrees celsius. 

The oppressive heat in the region has been a constant source of concern ahead of the men's World Cup being held in Qatar in 2022, questioning its suitability to stage major sporting events.

The Middle East nation is also understood to be keen to bid for the Olympic Games in 2032 or 2036, but the trials of Doha must cast doubt on that.

Doha, Eugene and Barcelona were the three cities that entered the bidding process for the 2019 World Athletics Championships. When Doha won, the then IAAF president Lamine Diack said he was convinced the city was committed through sport to developing its country and its community.

Last month, the Guardian revealed a proposal from the organisers in Qatar to pay $4.5 million to a senior figure in the athletics governing body, just before Doha was successful in its bid to host the championships.

Diack, the now disgraced former IAAF chief, has been ordered to stand trial on charges of corruption and money laundering. It follows a four-year investigation in France into doping cover-ups, extortion and bribe-taking in world athletics.

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