IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha: Foreseeable problems | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 04.10.2019
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IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha: Foreseeable problems

The World Athletics Championships in Doha will be remembered for empty stands, an air-conditioned stadium, blazing heat and a problematic human rights situation. It has left not only sports fans shaking their heads.

The lights were turned down in the Khalifa International Stadium ahead of the 1500-meter final of the decathlon. The images and names of the finalists were projected onto the tartan track. Then a spotlight moved from one athlete to the next, accompanied by music.

The organizers of the World Athletics Championships in Doha have been using such special effects to try to conceal the fact that the Khalifa International Stadium has been half full at best – even though they've been giving out free tickets for days. Never before have a World Athletics Championships been so lacking in enthusiasm as this edition in Qatar has been.

Marathon start at midnight

One of the few who people who does seem to be enthusiastic about these World Championships is Sebastian Coe, who has been, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) since 2015.

"I can't remember a World Championships actually that has delivered at this level for a long time," said the former world-class runner, who won gold in the 1500 meters at the 1980 and 1984 Summer Olympic Games. "It has never been so hard to win a medal."

Here, Coe was referring to the parity of the athletes – as opposed to the sometimes ridiculous conditions the athletes have been forced to compete under. On Saturday the men's marathon isn't scheduled to start until midnight local time – in the hopes of escaping the worst of the day's heat. In the women's race last weekend, 32.7 degrees Celsius (90.8 Fahrenheit) and 73.3 percent humidity were measured despite the late starting time. Only 40 of the 68 runners made it across the finish line.

Leichtathletik Weltmeisterschaft 2019 in Doha (picture-alliance/SvenSimon/A. Waelischmiller)

Giovanna Epis of Italy collapsed during the women's marathon

"Ecological madness"

The Khalifa International Stadium, which is to be one of the venues for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, is artificially cooled down to 26 degrees Celsius using cold air nozzles mounted on the underside of the stands. The stadium has no roof, so the cold air gets blown out into the desert sky.

In a statement to DW, Monika Lazar, spokesperson on sports policy in the Green Party's parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, described the practice as "ecological madness." She also said she viewed the idea of holding the Worlds in Qatar as a "disaster" on several other levels.

Lazar was referring, among other things, to the accusations of corruption in connection with the awarding of the hosting rights to Doha back in 2014 as well as to the cameras installed on the starting blocks, which were angled at athlete's private parts.

 The Green politician said she felt sorry for the athletes in particular, "because they're forced to pay for the wrong decisions made by the federations: They have to celebrate in front of virtually empty stands. They sometimes collapse during the day because of the heat or have to compete at night because of television marketing and the heat."

Leichtathletik-WM Doha 2019 | Klimaanlage im Khalifa-Stadion (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler)

Cool air from below: The nozzles that blow out air into the Khalifa International Stadium – and beyond

Blatant human rights violations

Another problem remains the human rights situation in Qatar, which human rights organizations have been documenting for years with a view to the 2022 World Cup of football. Amnesty International (AI) says that human rights continue to be blatantly violated in the Gulf state.

"The situation facing migrant workers has still not improved significantly," Regina Spöttl, AI's Qatar expert told DW.

"The exploitative Kafala sponsorship system continues to exist under a new name and continues to contribute to workers' disproportionate dependence on their employers," she said "Passports are still withheld and residence and work permits are not renewed. Most of the workers continue to live in totally inadequate camps far outside the city. Many of them are paid late or not at all."

Amnesty-Kritik an Bedingungen im WM-Land Katar (Amnesty International/picture-alliance/dpa)

This 2012 photo shows a guest worker's accomodation in Qatar

Spöttl did concede that a vehicle does now exist for the workers to try to get their rights enforced, "but these arbitration committees are understaffed, so the proceedings take a long time. So a lot of migrant workers return to their home countries empty-handed."

AI also complains that while Qatar's authorities are now cooperating with the International Labour Organization (ILO), it's not doing the same with human rights organizations. Spöttl said that a joint ILO-Qatar government initiative to improve the labor protection law in the Gulf state has been created, but there are still a lot of problems.

"Reforms, however, remain incomplete, new laws have loopholes. Trade union membership remains prohibited for migrant workers."

'You don't expect anything good'

All of this raises the question as to why organizations like the IAAF or football's world governing body FIFA would award major sporting events to a country like Qatar in the first place - apart from financial reasons. 

"Ths disaster should be a lesson to the IAAF, but renaming the federation alone [the IAAF is to be known in future as "World Athletics"] is not enough. The sad thing is that many of the problems were foreseeable," said Green politician Lazar with a view to three years down the road.

"In 2022 the next major sporting event in Qatar, the World Cup, is just around the corner and it doesn't bode well."

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