UKA's Warner: Ticket sales have trumped doping in attracting World Championships sponsors
By Simon Ward at the Telegraph Business of Sport
The prospect of large attendances at this year’s IAAF World Championships in London has helped to attract sponsors for the event despite the doping issues that continue to plague track and field, according to Ed Warner, the chairman of UK Athletics.
The vast majority of the 700,000 tickets for the event at the London Stadium have been sold as the organisers seek to build on the success of the 2012 Olympic Games, when the same venue was packed for the athletics competitions.
Warner acknowledged that, in the wake of the recent Russian doping scandal, the IAAF, athletics’ international governing body, had found top-tier sponsorship “a tough sell,” but does not believe this has extended to the domestic market.
Speaking at the Telegraph Business of Sport 2017 conference in London, he said: “We’ve managed for 2017 to bring in a great roster. The likes of Müller and Co-Op are heavily involved and that’s really exciting to me.
"There was no guarantee a couple of years ago when the Russian doping stuff blew up that we would ever get that [line-up].
“We’ve had to work extremely hard to do that. For me, one of the most important things has been to be able to turn round to sponsors and say, ‘look, we’ve sold all these tickets.’ We went on sale last summer, in August, on the back of the Rio Olympics, and sold half a million tickets in no time at all and we had a total of 700,000.
“You can then go to sponsors and say, ‘forget all you read in the press, people want to be there, you’ve got to be there too’ and that’s been a pretty potent force for us in the marketplace.”
Warner added: “Doping hasn’t helped [athletics], but a World Championships has trumped that for us, which is good.”
With London 2017 set to mark the last appearance at a major event of Jamaican sprinting star Usain Bolt and, before he switches to the marathon, of British long distance hero Mo Farah, Warner believes the championships have the potential to be more of a showcase for athletics than the track and field events at last year’s Olympics when there were large numbers of empty seats.
He said: “We’re going to have all the same athletes who thrilled us in Rio, in a stadium that’s going to be rammed, for the IAAF World Championships in August, and the Para Athletics World Championships in July.
“You didn’t get that in Rio. You had a stadium that was crumbling and on the edge of town so it took a lot of time to get there. The crowd wasn’t particularly knowledgeable though it was enthusiastic about being there.
“What we all know is that British fans really love their sport, they understand it, they engage with it, and London 2012 demonstrated to me that there’s a passion for athletics in the UK that has survived all the knocks the sport has taken.”
Meanwhile, Warner believes that athletics needs “to take some fervour out of the debate” over the proposal from European Athletics to rewrite European and world records that could have been affected by doping.
European Athletics said yesterday that it was carry out further consultation following feedback from stakeholders and present the findings to the IAAF Council to inform its own discussions.
While there is some backing from current and former athletes, there has been a backlash from record-holders and their supporters who believe it would be unfair to strip them of their accolades without proof of wrongdoing.
Warner said: “It's created massively feverish debate as you've seen in the last couple of weeks and I think what has to happen now is we've got to take some fervour out of the debate and look at all possible solutions.
"The answer might ultimately be there is no solution, you have to leave everything as it is. Or it might be some version of what European Athletics has come up with, or it might be something else entirely."