Flop of the Month: Qatar's World Cup dress rehearsal falls at first hurdle

It's tough to ascertain for what or whom the World Athletics Championships is a bigger PR disaster: Qatar, the IAAF, Lord Coe, or the sport in general.

Spot the spectator: Doha crowds have been sparse at best (©GettyImages)

As images of athletics' second-biggest showcase are beamed around the world, cameras have been more focussed on the lack of spectators than the action on the track – a far cry from pledges of 'no empty seats' and a 'fantastic atmosphere' when Qatar bid for the event in 2011.

Contrast this with what's currently happening further east, in Japan, where another new host – this time, of the Rugby World Cup – has done everything right: full stadia, passionate crowds, huge local buy-in and no doubt, a lasting legacy. In other words, a perfect dress rehearsal for the Tokyo Olympics next year.

Back to Doha, and for the competitors, what could be the pinnacle of their career has been reduced to victory laps in front of close family members, a few stewards and, in recent days, bus-loads of migrant workers who have been given free tickets to boost crowd numbers.

Tragically, those athletes on victory laps are the lucky ones. Dozens haven't even made it to the finish line, instead being carried off for treatment as a result of having to compete in conditions and temperatures totally unsuitable for running.

As many disgusted observers have pointed out, this is what can happen when sporting events are pimped out to the highest bidder, where countries with no real local following are able to 'sports-wash' their reputation, so long as it boosts the coffers of the governing body.

Flimsy defences from IAAF CEO Jon Ridgeon and president Lord Coe have done little to justify this reputational catastrophe, with Olympic legend Michael Johnson saying (off air) of the latter: "The thing is… Seb, it’s like, you’re either ignorant, naïve, or full of shit. And he’s not ignorant or naïve." 

What next for Qatar? Well, at least it isn't scheduled to be hosting any more big sporting events in the near future...

Dishonourable mentions:

Parliament: Inflammatory language used by MPs on both sides of the Brexit divide prompted the Speaker to remark that the House had done itself no credit because of its ‘toxic atmosphere’.

The BBC: The row over Naga Munchetty's comments over Trump and racism left the Beeb in a comms pickle, leading to a U-turn that saw director general Lord Hall reverse a decision to partially uphold a complaint against the Breakfast presenter.

The Guardian/The Sun: The Guardian's editorial description of David Cameron's grief over his son's death as 'privileged pain' and The Sun's story about Ben Stokes' family tragedy saw neither newspaper cover themselves in glory. 

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