(Reuters) - Doha was chosen on Tuesday to host the 2019 World Athletics Championships as Qatar’s latest triumph thrust the Middle East nation, with its massive wealth and boundless ambition to be a sporting super-power, once more back into the spotlight.
Less than a week after the controversy over Qatar’s selection to stage soccer’s World Cup in 2022 was reignited, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) was not put off by potential criticism as it voted for the Qatari capital to stage another of global sport’s showpiece events.
At its meeting in Monaco, the IAAF Council plumped for Doha ahead of two powerful, older school candidates, former Olympic hosts Barcelona and Eugene, the Nike-backed home of athletics in the United States.
Doha’s victory, after losing to London in the 2017 bidding race, again underlined the ever-growing pulling power of Qatar’s petrodollar-fuelled masterplan to be a major, credible force in the sporting mainstream.
First, the World Cup, now the world championships but it is still, many sporting power brokers believe, only the launch pad for Qatar to become the first Middle East nation to stage the Olympics in 2024.
Organizers were at pains throughout the bidding process to try to avoid the possibility of a repeat of any of the corruption allegations and logistical controversies which disfigured Qatar’s soccer World Cup bid.
After an investigation, FIFA last week cleared Qatar of wrongdoing regarding its 2022 bid, only to unleash a new firestorm of criticism when the chief investigator disowned the conclusions of the governing body’s report.
But Doha’s athletics bid leader, Dahlan Al-Hamad, reiterated on the eve of Tuesday’s vote: “We are very happy that FIFA has investigated and announced everything is clear and can go ahead in Qatar but our concentration is to organize for the world championships in the right way, and within the IAAF rules.”
Also trying to avoid the sort of uproar which has enveloped FIFA since it chose to host its event in the burning mid-summer heat, Doha organizers recognized their athletics championships, usually held in August, would have to be held out-of-season to avoid the most merciless and potentially debilitating temperatures.
With the championships beginning late September, it will be by far the latest time of year that any of the 17 editions will have been held.
The previous latest was the 1987 Rome Championships, which began on Aug. 28. Indeed, no global summer athletics championships has been staged this late in the year since the Mexico City Olympics, which began on Oct. 13, 1968.
All of which will entail a significant revamping of the international athletics calendar in 2019 and of athletes’ usual summer preparations as the season climax effectively comes between a month and two months later than normal.
It is still going to be brutally hot, though, with average October temperatures in Doha about 35 degrees in the morning and 30 in the evenings, even if that is no more stifling than at previous world championship venues like Tokyo and Seville.
To spare marathon runners the most forbidding conditions, the races will be staged on fully floodlit roads after darkness falls early in Doha, organizers say.
The city lost out in 2017 partly because of fears of lack of public enthusiasm would lead to poor crowds but organizers revamped their bid for 2019, trumpeting their idealistic beliefs that the action in the renovated, state-of-the-art Khalifa Stadium will galvanize athletics, help develop women’s sport and be a unifying social force in a divided region.
The Middle East has never hosted the championship, though Doha’s staging of the 2010 world indoor championships and five increasingly impressive international invitation meets has demonstrated its organizational readiness.
Traditionalists, though, may only be left sighing that money can now seemingly buy anything for Qatar, a tiny gulf state with so little athletics tradition that it has spent a fortune over the past decade importing star runners from Africa.
Meanwhile, the U.S, the most successful nation in athletics history — 138 world championship gold medals versus two for Qatar (and those both won by a Kenyan-born-and-bred steeplechaser) — has been again denied the chance to host its first world championships.
Qatar, though, insists its supporters, won this bid not by being the richest, but only the best. “When Sebastian Coe visited us last month as head of the IAAF Evaluation Committee,” reported Al-Hamad, “he said the IAAF will be basing its decision on who will best be able to host and support a track and field championship... We are ready.”
Editing by Justin Palmer