29 May 2008
Article as seen in Athletics Weekly Magazine
It is exactly 50 days until the start of the Aviva National Championships in Birmingham, a sliver over seven weeks then until the Team GB Selection Trials for this summer’s Beijing Olympics.
The sun may have been shining recently, but summer has barely begun. The outdoor athletics season, always short by comparison with the elongated campaigns of Britain’s winter team sports and the continuous cycle of international cricket, seems shorter still in an Olympic and Paralympic year.
This summer our sport has an opportunity to enjoy a greater share of the finite oxygen of publicity in the national press over the brief period up to our Trials. No British team has qualified for football’s European Championships. Blanket coverage on television is still scheduled – broadcasters being bound by the contractual obligations signed before each Home Country failed to qualify. Newspaper column inches, though, are up for grabs for all the Olympic and Paralympic sports.
The early form shown by Britain’s athletes in warm climes, as well as at last weekend’s Loughborough International, bodes well for their prospects for the summer – not only in Beijing but also at the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland in July.
My dialogue with the athletics correspondents of the national newspapers suggests that, as keen fans of the sport themselves, they are eager to profile our talented athletes – both those already successful on the international stage and those on their way up to that level. Their challenge, however, is in persuading their sports editors that such coverage is warranted.
Unfortunately, any success on the track or in the field will have to compete for editors’ attention with the inevitable stories about doping that seem set to mark the coming months. The trial of Trevor Graham in San Francisco is world athletics’ biggest story, just as doping is its biggest challenge.
Three weeks ago Usain Bolt ran the second fastest 100m in history. It is a measure of how far athletics has fallen in the eyes of both the wider public and ‘insiders’ that coverage of the Jamaican’s triumph was heavy in implied incredulity. It may take years to restore public confidence, but that must not discourage the IAAF from the task in hand. They owe it to every athlete whose achievements, like Bolt’s, are being met with a shrug.
Over the past two weeks I’ve been privileged to speak at both a reception at the House of Commons to honour, among others, winners from the Norwich Union sports:hall regional finals, and the Bromley Schools’ Achievement in Sports Awards. Both were refreshing reminders of the unique appeal of athletics to young people. However, it must be nurtured if it is to endure. A summer of the right sort of athletics headlines would be welcome inspiration.