Athletics: a poor relation even before doping scandal

Wed Nov 11, 2015 7:13am EST
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By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN (Reuters) - Athletics was struggling to compete for funding with money-spinning sports such as soccer and baseball even before the latest doping scandal; but that task has now grown much harder despite the booming popularity of amateur running.

An independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) alleged on Monday widespread corruption and collusion by Russian officials to cover up drug test results and identified "systematic failures" by the sports world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

"This is a real punch to the jaw for athletics. Already it was a difficult sell. This is going to make it a very, very difficult sell," said Andrew Woodward, a sports marketing consultant who was director of public relations for Olympics sponsor Visa until 2011.

IAAF partner Canon Inc, the world's biggest maker of cameras and printers, said it was disappointed by the reports of unethical behavior in the sport and said it expected the IAAF "to respond swiftly and responsibly".

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for China's petrochemical corporation Sinopec, which is still listed on the IAAF website as an official partner, said that it had completed its cooperation with the organization, and would need to consider whether further sponsorship was in line with group strategy.

Athletics takes center stage at the Olympics every four years but lacks a high-profile annual event and is a small fish in the pool for sponsorship and rights money dominated by the likes of soccer, baseball and basketball.

The flagship Diamond League series of events lost its title sponsor Samsung two years ago and has gone ahead without a title sponsor since.

Underlining the relative status of the sport, Adidas, another IAAF sponsor, did not even mention the forthcoming Rio Olympics in its quarterly results presentation last week, as it focused instead on product launches for the soccer Euro 2016 competition.   Continued...

A sportsman casts a shadow on a race track while training at a local stadium in the southern city of Stavropol, Russia, November 10, 2015.  REUTERS/Eduard Korniyenko