Was the Doha World Athletics Championships a ‘success’?

Praise, criticism mark the inaugural athletics championships to be held in the Gulf region.

Athletics - World Athletics Championship [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]
The lightshow marking the start of the finals and the handover ceremony remained one of the highlights of the event [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – A near-capacity crowd inside Doha’s Khalifa Stadium witnessed the passing of a baton to the mayor of Oregon, the host city for the 2021 World Athletics Championships, on Sunday night.

A sense of pride – and a sigh of relief – prevailed as the 10-day global event came to an end in the capital of Qatar.

A total of 143 medals were awarded, two world records were broken, and the midnight marathon and 4×400-metre mixed relays made their global debut.

Athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, called the event “a big, big success” but poor crowd turnout, organising and scheduling of the event, as well as high temperatures and humidity for the races outside of Khalifa Stadium left a lot of question marks hanging over Qatar’s hosting of the games.

“The event was a complete success,” IAAF Vice President Ximena Restrepo told Al Jazeera on the final day. “I have been a competitor at three championships and went as a spectator to so many. The facilities for the athletes have been amazing and I think this championship was a big, big success.” 

Athletics - World Athletics Championship [Faras Gani/Al Jazeera]
Thanks to increased marketing and free entry, Khalifa Stadium witnessed capacity crowd towards the end of the 10-day event [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

The highs

The facilities for the athletes inside the stadium, the world record by Dalilah Muhammad in the women’s 400-metre hurdles as well as the US men’s 4×400-metre relay and the spectacular light show remained the highlights of the event.

After poor turnout in the first few days, a packed stadium witnessed local hero Mutaz Barshim win gold in the high jump.

The IAAF President Sebastian Coe called the championships the “best ever”, adding “the sport is in a pretty good shape”.

The lows

There was poor turnout at Khalifa Stadium before organisers decided to make it free entry for the last few days.

As a result, the stadium was overcrowded. While spectators were allowed to enter the stadium, they were unable to find a seat. A few ticket-holders, who had bought tickets without knowing it was free entry, were denied entry and refused a refund.

Schoolchildren arrived in big numbers for the final day while still in their uniforms and carrying backpacks.

The scheduling was also criticised as the organisers, due to the daytime heat and TV schedule, opted to start the sessions late in the day with some going past midnight local time. 

Lack of information – for tickets, entry points, parking, seating and the opening and closing ceremony – for the spectators also remained a worry.

Athletics - World Athletics Championship [Faras Gani/Al Jazeera]
The free entry resulted in overcrowding on one of the days, with a few ticket-holders unable to gain access [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

The Local Organising Committee (LOC) failed to respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment and Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the PR company handling media requests, did not return emails seeking interviews.

An earlier LOC statement said: “Despite additional seats being available, the stadium reached capacity and regrettably some fans were unable to attend.”

Midnight marathon

The event opened with the women’s midnight marathon, which saw 28 of the 68 runners fail to finish the race.

Temperatures reached 32C (90F) and humidity crossed the 70-percent mark. Ahead of the marathon, there were fears the conditions might not be conducive for the race but organisers decided to go ahead as scheduled. 


“The humidity kills you,” said Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, who finished fifth. “There is nothing to breathe. I thought I wouldn’t finish. It’s disrespect towards the athletes. A bunch of high-ranked officials gathered and decided that it would take [the World Championships] here but they are sitting in the cool and they are probably sleeping right now.”

“Getting used to this [heat, humidity] is very difficult. We have never experienced this before,” a Ukrainian athlete told Al Jazeera after pulling up midway through their training session after 10pm local time (19:00 GMT).

The IAAF’s Restrepo, however, defended the decision to hold the marathon, arguing that the athletes knew well in advance what the conditions would be like.


“The conditions weren’t ideal and it’s difficult to play with the weather. That’s something nobody can forecast. We knew it’d be hot but we didn’t know it’d be so humid.

“The athletes that come to the championships know the temperature will be high because they run in the middle of the summer and they are prepared for that. They are professionals and they knew beforehand.” 

Hosts’ performance

Qatar’s contingent of 19 athletes had two medals to show for. In addition to Barsham’s gold, Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba bagged bronze in the men’s 400-metre hurdles. 

Mariam Farid, who won the triple jump silver medal at the West Asian athletics championships in Jordan last year, told Al Jazeera that hosting the event will help inspire Qatar’s young generation.

“It will motivate and inspire the upcoming generations and open doors to a lot of people,” she said before the start of the event.

Africa’s joy

Kenya finished second, taking home 11 medals, including five golds. 

Athletics - World Athletics Championship [Faras Gani/Al Jazeera]
Kenyan supporters were given a lot to cheer for by the athletes who bagged 11 medals in total [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera]

Ethiopian fans inside the stadium were also provided various opportunities to cheer for their compatriots as the country finished fifth with eight medals.

There was also joy for Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, all of those featuring on the final medals table.

In addition to the festive atmosphere inside the stadium, stalls sharing African culture outside the stadium witnessed traditional music and dances, especially for those who were unable to get in. 

Source: Al Jazeera