Brian Roe | In a league all its own

OFF AND RUNNING: Kendra Harrison (USA) clears a barrier on her way to winning the women's 100-metre hurdles race in the Qatar Diamond League meet which kicked off the global competition. Pictures: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
OFF AND RUNNING: Kendra Harrison (USA) clears a barrier on her way to winning the women's 100-metre hurdles race in the Qatar Diamond League meet which kicked off the global competition. Pictures: AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Last night’s Shanghai Diamond League meet was the second leg of the 2018 edition of the globe’s most prestigious track and field circuit competition.

The Diamond League began its yearly journey in Qatar nine days ago and will stretch over 12 more meetings until it reaches its conclusion at the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels on the last day of August.

Four legs are now staged on other continents but in the ten remaining meets, including both finals, it is still Europe which dominates circuit athletics – only marginally less than it did at its zenith 30 years ago.

Apart from the fact the meets still mostly attract the best athletes of the day, little remains in common with that previous era.

There are huge differences – all of which make it a massive challenge for anyone thinking of trying to stage a big one-day athletics meet right now.

In the European circuit’s heyday, meeting organisers found a sponsor or two and booked the local stadium – and everything flowed from there.

There were few problems finding someone to put a meet on television. With few expectations in terms of graphics and gimmicks, any local television station with an OB truck was more than delighted to show a meet – and equally happy to cover all their own costs of producing the program.

More often than not they were happy to provide some money to the meet organisers for the privilege of doing so.

Very different these days - apart from some of the highest level meets like the Diamond League.

Then there is the matter of remuneration of the participants. In the supposedly-amateur days of the 1980s, athletes agreed in advance to participate for a set fee and then received it in cash immediately afterwards.

The bigger the name the bigger the “appearance” fee. But generally every athlete got something for their time and trouble.

These days apart from a promotional fee for the very best, everyone competes for prize money on the day.

In the case of a regular Diamond League meeting before the final, that means $10,000US for first down to $1000US for eighth in each event –with the men’s discus and women’s triple jump eligible for exactly the same as the men’s and women’s 100 metres.

In fact since the IAAF first introduced prize money there has been equality across the genders and across the events.

Meet organisers still pay for air travel, accommodation and meals for all athletes – in contrast for example to tennis where inequity in this regard has been identified as one of the possible temptations for some to consider match fixing.

But the biggest difference in 2018 is the cost which athletic meets face in “event presentation”.

Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim celebrates after his high jump win during the Qatar Diamond League. Athletes compete for the same prize money regardless of gender.

Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim celebrates after his high jump win during the Qatar Diamond League. Athletes compete for the same prize money regardless of gender.

In the 80s this extended perhaps to convincing a local car dealer to provide some convertible vehicles so that the biggest stars could do a lap of honour before the meet got under way – or adding a few extra horns to the stadium public address system.

Nowadays the expectations are vast – and the costs even more so. Giant video and graphic screens, on-field scoreboards and DJs pumping out music riffs, carefully choreographed on a run-sheet so that they appear at just the right time are minimum anticipations.

Sponsors are no longer content with static fence signs. LED boards around the perimeter are becoming more and more common.

And then there’s the value-adding through pyrotechnics, lasers and the like.

Many of the fans of the 1980s events detest almost all of these bells and whistles – apart from those which give results quicker and more effectively.

But survival in the highly competitive sports markets of the late second decade of the 21st century means finding and keeping new fans.

Grooving along to the latest pop diva while watching a new queen of the track is far more appealing it seems than being able to hear an announcer deliver a quirky fact, which can probably be done more effectively through carefully-synched social media.