Athletics to be very different when competitions resume

The World Athletics on Tuesday announced the commencement of Diamond League one-day meetings from August 14 in Monaco which could be held without fans.

Athletes have been forced to recalibrate their entire season after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed by a year. (File picture)   -  Getty Images

The middle-distance runners taking off a few seconds apart, relay runners with gloves and probably even a lane's gap between 100m sprinters. The World Athletics is considering a lot of options as it works on finding ways out of the mess created by the coronavirus pandemic and to resume competition in August.

But clearly, athletics is in for a major change.

“As an individual sport, there are things that we can do. It's not going to look identical to traditional track and field for a few months but I think there are things that we can do to give the audience that's watching on television some excitement that athletics is back and, crucially, for athletes to go from training to specific amounts of competition,” said Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, in a video interaction, from London on Friday.

READ | No foreign travel for Indian athletes in 2020, says AFI chief

“If we have to bring back competition in the relays, we have to think about the baton going from hand to hand, this could clearly be a source of infection. Would it not be possible to wear very light skin-tight gloves. I'm sure there are ways around this. We'll figure out how to do this.”

The Indian athletes, among Asia's best in the relays, will be watching these developments very closely.

“The other day, the Italian federation sent me some very interesting ideas about how you could maintain distance in the 800 and 1500m events, not necessarily by starting together but by starting may be five seconds apart and starting individually,” explained Coe.

Meets behind closed doors

“The guiding principle is what is safe for athletes. We also recognise that the first few competitions may be held behind closed doors.”

Coe was also clear that despite the lockdown dope cheats should not feel safe.

“We have some challenges, we should be clear about that, there's no point in pretending otherwise. The Athletics Integrity Unit, before the pandemic, was routinely testing and having missions and programmes in over a hundred countries. Clearly now, because of the travel and flight restrictions, our testing procedures are not what they were. But I want to be clear about one important feature and that is, the testing hasn't stopped,” said the Brit, a middle-distance legend and a former Olympic champion.

Intelligent testing

“It has its challenges but it's not a test-free zone and there's monitoring going on all the time by major national anti-doping agencies, AIU and WADA. No athletes should assume that because they are in lockdown, they are immune from the tests. So, continue to fill in your whereabouts, it should be easier now because we all know where we are. And the days of adding up a number of tests is long gone. Intelligent testing and intelligent analysis are more important now than they have ever been and we're able to do that.”

Creative lot

The lockdown appears to have brought out the creative streak from athletes, meet organisers and federations.

The recent Ultimate Garden Challenge (between the world's best pole-vaulters who were in action in their own garden and streamed live on YouTube) and the 'Impossible Games' (planned in Oslo in June where athletes would be attempting records) are fine examples.

Clearly, despite the many challenge, athletics has found new ways of keeping its fans engaged.

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