Organisers of next month’s World Athletics Championships in Beijing have been told they urgently need to step up their promotional efforts for the event by Lamine Diack, President of International Association of Athletics Federations.
Diack has voiced his concern that the advertising and promotional activities for events in the Bird’s Nest Stadium, which hosted athletics at the 2008 Olympics are too low key,
Diack had issued warnings ahead of the 2013 World Championships held in Moscow, an event which attracted widespread criticism for the levels of attendance.
“I myself visited Beijing for the ‘One Year to Go’ promotional ceremony in August 2014 and I was in Beijing again in March and again in April 2015 to support the promotional effort,” said Diack, who will step down as President at the IAAF Congress in Beijing ahead of the Championships, to be replaced by either Sebastian Coe or Sergey Bubka.
“On both occasions, I reiterated the need to invest properly in the promotional efforts to secure what had been promised to us by the Chinese authorities for this event – 100 per cent capacity for the evening sessions and 30% for morning sessions.
“But at the moment, we see that some evening sessions are still around 50% of capacity, so we need to work very hard in the remaining weeks - we have no time to lose now.”
Diack, currently in Cali for the IAAF World Youth Championships, added: “Together with my IAAF Council colleagues, I supported Beijing’s bid for the 2015 World Championships because I believed that the event would not only be an extraordinary competition and would strengthen the image of our sport worldwide, but because I felt that it would allow China to unleash the huge potential of athletics in China.
“I call on all our partners in China to support us to achieve these goals.”
Diack’s comments mirror those he made in April 2013 in which he voiced concern over the possibility of poor attendances in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow because of poor promotion.
Many of his fears were borne out as the Championships, particularly in the morning sessions on the opening few days, took place to a Stadium largely full of empty seats.
The Moscow authorities ended up giving away 240.000 tickets free in a bid to boost crowd numbers.
Although the Luzhniki Stadium, which held the 1980 Olympics, has a capacity of 80,000, organisers reduced that to 35,000 during the Championships, for which the average ticket was on sale for 100 rubles, approx. £1.
Over the first four days there was an average morning session attendance of 12,000, although the evening sessions, including the one in which home pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva reclaimed the world title, averaged 32,000.
Ukraine’s athletes were volubly supported by a small but vocal band of fans in national colours whose trip had been sponsored by a Ukrainian businessman at the behest of Bubka, who represents Ukraine as one of the IAAF Vice Presidents.
Even so, in such a large arena, the atmosphere suffered.
"Yeah, I noticed," said Jamaica's Usain Bolt of the rows of empty seats for the first Sunday's 100 metres final.
Britain’s world 400m champion Christine Ohuruougu commented: "You see the stands, which I must say were pretty empty, and it made me miss London  all the more."
Shen Chunde, vice-president of the Chinese Athletic Association, had predicted afterwards that they were confident of attracting daily crowds of 50,000 in Beijing.
November 2013: We made mistakes in promoting Moscow World Championships, admits Russian Athletics chief
August 2013: Beijing 2015 World Championships organisers confident of capacity 50,000 plus crowds
April 2013: Moscow need to step up promotion for World Championships, warns IAAF President
October 2012: Moscow 2013 responds to Diack comment as IAAF World Championships tickets go on sale early