IAAF chief Ridgeon suggests diplomatic blockade has affected Doha 2019 turnout

IAAF chief executive Jon Ridgeon believes the diplomatic blockade by Qatar’s neighbours has hit ticket sales as he defended hosting the World Championships in Doha.

Athletics’ global governing body has come under fire for sparse crowds over the opening three days of Doha 2019.

The 40,000 Khalifa International Stadium had its capacity reduced to 21,000 for the event, with 17,000 tickets available once media, team and guest seating was taken into account.

France’s decathlon world champion Kevin Mayer has called hosting the championships in Qatar a “disaster”, while Britain’s former Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis said the IAAF had “massively” let the athletes down.

Two years ago, an air, land and sea blockade was imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt over their possible ties to Iran, and Ridgeon suggested this could have hit ticket sales.

IAAF World Athletics Championships 2019 – Day Three – Khalifa International Stadium
There were lots of empty seats for the women’s 200m final on Sunday (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We’d like bigger audiences and we’re working hard,” the former hurdler told the BBC.

“You have to understand the political challenges this country faces, which was never envisaged.

“You must remember, when this event was awarded (to Qatar) six or seven years ago it was always positioned as a celebration of athletics in the Middle East.

“Clearly geopolitics has shifted since, there’s a blockade now on this country from the surrounding countries.”

Just 13,288 people – including 1,484 guests – watched the first session on Friday, with attendances declining in the following two days.

The Local Organising Committee earlier on Monday responded to criticism by saying the start of the Qatari working week and TV schedules were to blame for the poor turnouts.

“I can’t emphasise enough how hard we’re working the Local Organising Committee to make it better,” Ridgeon said.

“The next four years for us is all about growing athletics, and actually going to new parts of the world is important in that. The crowd is important, but many athletes are having positive experiences and the athletics is stunning.

“We will, at the end of the championships, absolutely review what’s happened here, decide what works for future and what doesn’t. You have to keep challenging yourself.”

Dina Asher-Smith on the far side doing her lap of honour to rows of empty seats. #WorldAthleticsChampspic.twitter.com/ZNctwkLH31

— Nick Mashiter (@nickmashiter) September 29, 2019

Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith won 100 metres silver, behind Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, in front of a virtually empty stadium on Sunday evening, and team-mate Beth Dobbin feels the lack of a crowd denied her a proper lap of honour.

“In Berlin (at last year’s European Championships) I didn’t look up into the crowds because I didn’t want to get nervous. Here, I didn’t want to look in case I was disappointed,” the 200m semi-finalist said.

“I watched Dina’s victory lap and that was a bit heart-breaking because what she did was insane and there was no-one there.

“I feel like she was robbed of that moment. But that shouldn’t take away from how good the athletes are performing.”

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