Please Choose Option B

By Mario Fraioli

The U.S. Track & Field Championships wasn’t the only sparsely attended major track meet in the world recently. Last week’s UK Athletics trials saw eerily empty stands and a dearth of top talent on the track.

“But the thousands of empty seats send a message,” Sean Ingle writes for The Guardian. “To sponsors. To athletes. To everyone that turns on to BBC2 for four hours of live coverage on Sunday afternoon. This is a sport that not enough people care about.

Like it or not, there’s a lot of truth to Ingle’s last statement. Sacramento and London serve as evidence of it. Sure, the recent Ostrava meet might have had 30,000 people in the stands, but it also had Usain Bolt and many of the sport’s other top stars on the starting line. And that’s a major part of the problem: the sport can’t rely solely on its current crop of top stars to generate and keep interest. It needs to evolve and innovate to create fresh, sustainable excitement around competition, rivalries and rising stars, otherwise it risks turning away potential new fans and fading further into irrelevancy. That won’t happen, however, until more people—athletes, coaches, managers, and administrators alike—choose to forfeit some of their own short-term security for the longterm best interests of the sport.

“You have two options—play the game, be safe, become institutionalised and keep your job. Or, alternatively, try to move the sport forward by rocking the boat a little, and be fought at every turn. Pretty much everyone chooses the first option.”

A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.