The Diamond League Gets A Facelift

Not all of these superstars will get a chance at Diamond League glory again in ’20. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

IN EARLY NOVEMBER Seb Coe’s long-promised major retooling of the Diamond League was unveiled, creating a storm of controversy as 4 disciplines have been cut from the core of the program so that a DL meet can be shoehorned into a 90-minute broadcast window. This isn’t the first time that the DL program has been cut back, but previous tightenings weren’t as severe as this new protocol.

In the first 7 editions of the DL (2010–16), each of 16 events was contested 6 times (for each sex) in the pre-Final meets before all were staged in the finales in Zürich and Brussels. For the ’17 season there were only 8 such disciplines: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500/Mile, 110H, HJ & PV. It was down to 4 appearances for the other 8 events: steeple, 3000/5000, 400H, LJ, TJ, SP, DT, JT. For ’18 & ’19, the 400H was moved back to the list of events contested in 6 non-final meets.

But now the 200, steeplechase, triple jump and discus no longer enjoy DL status. The decision to cut them, says Monaco, was justified by post-meet surveys as well as online sampling. None of the four will be staged in the DL Final (which will be a single-meet event in ’20, with an extended 150-minute TV window), although all will still be present in a diminished capacity—5 meets for each sex for the two running events, 1 meet for each sex in the TJ and DT—in the 14 non-final meets. These cuts follow the earlier decision to remove the option of running a 5000 as a distance event, instead mandating that they all be 3000s.

Explains Coe, “Our objective is to create a faster-paced, more exciting global league that will be the showcase for our sport. A league that broadcasters want to show and fans want to watch. However, we understand the disappointment of those athletes in the disciplines not part of the 2020 Diamond League season.”

“Disappointment” puts it mildly. The Diamond League announcement ignited significant opposition, most notably by triple jumper Christian Taylor’s formation of The Athletics Association.

Taylor Not The Only One Distressed

A group called Global Throwing brought together some of the world’s top discus practitioners. In a 4-page letter, they noted that their past suggestions for streamlining the throws at meets had apparently not been considered.

“This is a sport of both Track and Field, as well as road and country,” the letter reads. “Yet where are our representatives at the decision-making table as it seems that these discussions are going on behind closed doors, impacting on the lives of thousands of athletes around the world, but also their coaches, families and the tremendous volunteer base that our sport relies upon.”

Jeff Porter, chair of USATF’s Athletes Advisory Committee, expressed bewilderment in a letter to WA, saying, “United States athletes have grown exhausted of accepting the unfavorable decisions made by the IAAF, which are typically made with minimal input from the athletes. It is our hope that you would immediately reverse these actions to remove the events from the Diamond League schedule, and bring athlete representatives to the table to correct this major misstep.”

The European Athletics Athletes Committee sent a critical letter with unanimous support of its members which said, in part, “Our sport is in need of modernization to ensure we remain commercially viable and popular, but we do not believe cutting these disciplines is the answer.”

The Twitter Crew Chimes In

Steepler Emma Coburn—”I’m disappointed. Cutting events isn’t the solution for exciting TV. Don’t blame athletes/events @iaaforg. We compete and put on a show. Racing is exciting & compelling. It’s on you to translate that. I guess our efforts & contributions racing & promoting the DL mean nothing.”

Sprinter Noah Lyles—“Wow no 200m.”

British distance runner Eilish McColgan—“So the 5000m isn’t a core event in the Diamond League OR the Continental Tour either!? Or am I missing something here? What’s the point in having it at the major championships? Gives athletes almost zero opportunities to run qualifying times or earn a living…”

Hall of Famer Carl Lewis—“The real issue is that the owner and marketing agent for the Diamond League has failed in their responsibilities. This is not an issue of time management.”

TJ World Record holder Jonathan Edwards—”There are so many things wrong with World Athletics decision re Diamond League events but what Usain Bolt showed athletics is that it’s not about events but personalities and to exclude and alienate one of the sport’s true stars [Christian Taylor] is beyond comprehension.”

A teammate of Ethiopian distance runner Selemon Barega posted a video of the 5000 specialist preparing for the next edition of the DL by practicing his shot putting.

There Will Be Other Options

WA hasn’t left the orphan events completely out in the cold, however, as a new “Continental Tour” has been formed (see sidebar for details).

Jon Ridgeon, CEO of World Athletics, published a letter officially responding to Global Throwing’s concerns, noting that the decisions on event cuts will be reviewed at the end of ’20 and that some events may return in ’21.

Otherwise, Ridgeon gave every indication that the DL restructuring is for the long term: “Whilst change will always be challenging, the market has already responded positively, with a new title sponsor in Wanda Sports Group being recently secured. This new partnership represents the single biggest sponsorship deal that the sport of athletics has ever attracted and was only possible because of the message of evolution we sent to the market through our proposed changes.”

The 2020 DL Schedule

April 17—Doha, Qatar
May 10—TBD, in China
May 16—Shanghai, China
May 24—Stockholm, Sweden
May 31—Rabat, Morocco
June 07—Eugene, Oregon
June 11—Oslo, Norway
June 13—Paris, France
July 04—London, England
July 10—Fontvieille, Monaco
August 16—Gateshead, England
20 August, Lausanne, Switzerland
September 04—Brussels, Belgium
September 11—Zürich, Switzerland