From The Editor — November 2010: Diamond League A Success?

I’M JEALOUS! The Track & Field News travel division took 50-odd lucky track fans to Europe in August for our first-ever Diamond League tour. In the space of just 15 days they got to see a lot of spectacular running, jumping, and throwing. First two days of competition in London, then the DL finals in Zürich and Brussels. (We won’t even discuss all the delightful non-track things they got to sample along the way.)

As noted in our news wrap-up on page 6, the DL they got to see wasn’t exactly what the IAAF had in mind when it crafted the new series.

Many of the sport’s biggest names were missing much of the year, and the marquee head-to-head matchups that had figured to be such a big part of the upgrade from the old Golden League just didn’t happen.

But good track & field is still good track & field, and our tourists got to see more high-end performances in the space of those two weeks than most people see in years of going to meets. So the question that begs to be asked is this, “Does the sport really need a codified series like this?”

Did more people come out to the stadia and/or turn on their TV sets because there was a season-long dash for diamonds in progress? Or does the sport continue to be as popular as it is (in Europe) simply because of the stunning prowess of the world’s best pros? I’ve seen no solid evidence that anything changed.

I’m torn in pondering the merits of a system which mandates that all events are created equal. We know that’s simply not true. Even among hardcore fans it’s tough to find people who get anything remotely equal in the pleasure department from each discipline on the menu. I’m one of them, and can watch runs, jumps or throws by either sex with equal interest. And the keep-it-fair part of my nature hates to see it when some events (women’s throws come to mind) get short shrift.

But I’m also conscious of the future of the sport and its need to put the best product possible on the field, and that awakens my Darwinian side, saying that it should be survival of the fittest; if an event isn’t putting butts in the seats, then meet promoters operating on a fine financial line—and that means most of them—shouldn’t be forced to host events. Particularly when means that at the same time the meet isn’t in the loop for some of the more popular events.

Sure, some of the meets (particularly the rich few) were able to stage non-DL events with high-caliber fields, but many simply had to forgo that pleasure. Specific: year in and year out, the men’s 1500/mile and 100 are the two most popular events. Yet, by rule, each appeared in a DL version in only 7 of the 14 meets on the circuit. Only 3 meets (Oslo, London, Brussels) had both of the events; another 3 (Rome, Lausanne, Zürich) had neither.

I also found it incomprehensible that the men’s 400—arguably the strongest of U.S. events—wasn’t contested in either American meet, because that’s just not the way the event distribution shook out.

That doesn’t sound like optimal marketing to me. Here’s hoping that the IAAF’s off-season musings on the subject address this crucial issue.