Organiser Glen Mills is hoping for a large spectator turnout for the Racers Grand Prix (GP) at the National Stadium on Saturday. But he isn't holding his breath.
Mills says in spite of Jamaica's global reputation in track and field, meets held locally struggle to get large spectator support because the sport does not have the same profile as football, which is widely considered the most popular sport in the world.
Mills says there is a misconception that track and field is well supported in Jamaica because of the importance fans place on the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs) every year.
"Yes, we are a top nation and it is said we love track and field, but the truth is that if you look at the evidence and support, we really don't. We love Champs," Mills said while speaking at the Jamaica Observer's Monday Exchange recently. "If this [Racers GP] was Champs, we wouldn't be having this discussion. I'd be saying, 'Wow, we have more than we can manage'.
"I say that because when you look at Carifta, the stands are empty. Any meet you have outside of Champs, it's trouble to get a big crowd. That's not love.
"Even when we had World Juniors [in 2002], it was the day when [Usain] Bolt [Mills' former athlete] ran that the biggest crowd came, and the stadium still wasn't full."
The Racers GP will be having its fifth staging this year, after a three-year hiatus because of COVID-19. Each of those years has featured some of the biggest names in world athletics and this year is no different.
This year's event showcases reigning women's and men's 200m world champions Shericka Jackson and American Noah Lyles; as well as Olympic Games 110m hurdles champion Hansle Parchment; Nigerian 100m hurdles world champion and world record holder Tobi Amusan; 2019 men's 100m world champion Christian Coleman of the United States; his compatriot Dalilah Muhammad, the former women's 400m hurdles world record holder; and former men's 400m Olympic Champion Wayde van Niekerk, who still holds the world record over the distance.
Racers Track Club's Oblique Seville, who was a men's 100m finalist at the World Athletics Championships last year, will face Coleman, while reigning men's 200m European champion Zharnel Hughes, also of Racers, faces Lyles over the half-lap event.
While these are some of the biggest names in the sport, Mills says that they are not given the same attention as other athletes, especially footballers, who are of equal calibre in their sports.
"They [spectators] love football," he said. "If this was football, with all those names coming, we'd have to get the army to secure the stadium. Compare a football star to Noah Lyles, in terms of the position he occupies in the sport today, himself and Tobi Amusan, Shericka, and Wayde, if you have footballers who are equivalent in football to those people, you just need one of them. Any one of the top 10 footballers in the world and the event is sold out."
Hughes feels the same as his coach, Mills.
"I totally agree, totally agree," he said. "I know All Comers Meet isn't that big a deal but you can go to All Comers and count the people in the stadium. If you want great performances, we need spectators out there.
"As coach said, Carifta was held here [last year], and there was a small crowd over in the grandstand, but when you check the bleachers, it was empty. Champs is the only time I saw the stadium full."
Mills blames this phenomenon on what he describes as amateurism in athletics.
As previously reported, he believes track and field is hindered by being so associated in the minds of the global audience with the Olympic Games. This is why, he says, until track and field develops its own identity, it will "die". This lack of identity, he says, prevents track and field's stars from being able to market themselves to earn as much as football's biggest stars and command the same attention and respect.