What UK Athletics Got Right And Wrong With The London Diamond League

By Kyle Merber

July 26, 2023

Is there really nothing better to do in London than go to a track meet? Well on a Sunday afternoon, at least 50,000 fans couldn’t think of a better option. The inner turmoil of being so heavily invested in this sport is that I simultaneously love it so much, yet nothing gives me greater frustration than track not being everything I know it can be. It’s a lot like when I try to feed my daughter any green vegetable and she almost always refuses. But occasionally she’ll put a brussel sprout in her mouth, if only for a second, and it’s hard not to come away with a sense of optimism.

It had been a while since London Stadium had housed the world’s greatest athletes – 2019 to be exact, but they are back! In my research for this thought piece, I went back and rewatched David Rudisha’s 800m WR for the hundredth time and every one of Mo Farah’s three gold medal races. You really forget how close Farah was to rolling around in Rupp’s spit.

Reliving those moments is why fans flock to the stadium. We can pretend it’s only to watch stars like Keely Hodgkinson or Sha’Carri Richardson, but it’s just as much the history and the experience of being part of that massive, engaged crowd. In the office on Monday morning, those who showed up to watch have a more interesting weekend recap to share during a team meeting than they would otherwise.

It’s fair to say that the sport is alive in Europe. Most of the big European meets perform better than any in the US. But I really doubt that the UK has this enormous, diehard fan base that voraciously consumes track and field – at least not at a scale any bigger than that of the US’s track nerds.

Not dissimilar to the United States’s, the British Championships were only shown online. And UK Athletics had to pay BBC’s production costs in order to guarantee that the London Diamond League meet was on television. UKA sought an emergency grant of up to £300K earlier this year from UK Sport so that the meet would still happen despite the promising early ticket sales.

A big reason the stadium filled up is because ticket prices were more reasonable than normal, at £23 for adults, £13 for seniors and students, and only £5 for juniors. For some perspective, if you were in London and looking to visit the sites, a tour of the stadium sans track meet is £22. Quick math puts the value of attending a track meet at exactly one pound!

Despite being on the brink of bankruptcy, I commend the commitment from the organization to get as many eyeballs as possible on this meet. That’s a future-oriented decision, although I am sure that the investment paid off immediately, too. (Not having a fundraising concert to coincide with the event seems like a missed opportunity.)

But as my opening paragraph suggests, we can’t always (or even usually) have nice things. The great attendance at the meet was set against the backdrop of British athletes fairly qualifying for the World Championships (according to the rankings system set forth by World Athletics!), yet not being selected by their federation.

Lina Nielsen is currently 27th on the descending order list in the 400m hurdles, which has an allotted quota for 40 athletes. The World standard is 54.90 – Nielsen’s season’s best is 54.96 and her personal best of 54.76 was run the month before the qualification period opened.

There may have been 50,000 blokes in a stadium, but now we also need a bloke or two in a decision making decision to exhibit 50,000x more support for the athletes they allegedly work for! (How about that for putting a bow on this section, huh?)

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.