Commercialisation brings value to sports, but let's be careful

Commercialisation brings value to sports, but let's be careful

Friday, December 06, 2019

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The uproar triggered by the decision of World Athletics (previously the International Association of Athletics Federations) to cut eight disciplines from the Diamond League season next year is understandable.

The most vigorous protests so far are over the men's and women's 200m, discus throw, triple jump, and 3,000m steeplechase.

According to World Athletics, the decision was taken, after research, to cater to a 90-minute broadcast window.

“Our objective is to create a faster-paced, more exciting global league that will be the showcase for our sport a league that broadcasters want to show and fans want to watch,” World Athletics president Lord Coe said.

In relation to the 200m, the body said it believed the event would be too congested alongside the 100 metres in an Olympics year, while the field events emerged the least popular in online and post-event surveys conducted in several countries.

Those surveys, World Athletics said, showed that the 100m, long jump and high jump were the three most popular disciplines, and as such they will be included at all meetings and the final.

However, the body also said that after a detailed review of the schedule for the 90-minute broadcast window of the Diamond League, both the 200m and the 3,000m steeplechase will be included in 10 meetings (five male and five female) in the 2020 season. Two meets will also feature discus and triple jump (one female and one male). However, none of the four disciplines will feature in the Diamond League final in 2020.

A total of 14 meets and one final in Zurich make up the 2020 calendar. Interestingly, though, the organisers last month agreed to add a 15th meet to the season as part of a title sponsorship deal with Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group.

Among those protesting the decision was Jamaican Mr Yohan Blake, the 100m gold medallist at the 2011 World Championships.

“I believe all the events are very important. This is people's careers, this is where they make their money,” Mr Blake said this week, adding that the decision was an attempt to kill the sport.

The Global Throwing Group — which represents discus, javelin and shot put athletes — also accused World Athletics of “seriously destroying the historical and cultural heritage” of the sport because of “some short-term marketing strategy”.

Also, reigning triple jump world champion, American Mr Christian Taylor, has launched an athletes' union to fight the changes.

In response, World Athletics chief executive Mr Jon Ridgeon said the “market demanded that the Diamond League product now evolve”.

He also suggested that the decision was justified by the Wanda Group's title sponsorship deal, which will end an eight-year commercial partnership drought.

That, essentially, explains World Athletics' decision.

Sport, while providing joy, entertainment and pride to individuals and nations, is big business. A KPMG study of the major impact of sporting events, published in September 2018, told us that globally, sports events had an estimated value of US$80 billion in 2014, and that was expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.6 per cent to reach a value of US$90.9 billion by the end of 2017.

“This value comprises ticket sales (27 per cent), sponsorship (35 per cent), broadcasting and media rights (35 per cent), and merchandise (3 per cent),” the study said.

No one can argue against the value of commercialisation. In fact, it has created opportunities and economic benefits for many athletes.

We must, however, be careful not to sacrifice sports' core principles — the moulding of human character, respect for competition, and development of human relationships — for a profit-at-all-cost business ethos.

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