As a little girl growing up in Orpington, Kent, Dina Asher-Smith would’ve dreamt of a day like this. She appeared more machine than the mere humans she was up against as she powered to gold in the women’s 200 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Doha. After years of sacrifice, Dina was on top of the world. However, with less than 1,000 people there to embrace the new queen of the track on her lap of honour, it seemed as if the world wasn’t there to watch.
5,000 miles away in Japan, who are hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Wales were greeted by a kilometre-long queue to watch their open training session at Kitakyushu Stadium. 15,000 locals piled in to embrace their new visitors, even serenading them with the Welsh national anthem, co-ordinated and learnt to perfection.
Japan are no strangers to the game which shot to national attention following their shock win against giants South Africa in the 2015 tournament, but there was still work to do to get it to the masses. A total of 630,000 fans have reportedly flocked to watch the games with an average crowd of 35,000.
French winger Yoann Huget, fresh from his side’s 23-21 win over Argentina in front of a sell-out crowd, told the Rugby World Cup website: “I sat down on the pitch after the match to savour it. I could have been in any great stadium in the world and you can tell the public are responding. I didn’t expect that. It’s a special atmosphere.”
The mood in Doha, where just 50,000 tickets had been sold across the 10 days, was much quieter. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), headed by former Great Britain Olympian Lord Sebastian Coe, has been on the PR defensive as to why the event limped across the line, blaming TV scheduling. But when just 11,000 people turn up for the showpiece Men’s 100m final, the issues clearly lie deeper.
Denise Lewis slammed the governing body who have “massively let our athletes down”. She said: “I didn’t expect it to be this bad. The athletes deserve people, an energy and an atmosphere to thrive on.” Fellow BBC colleague Darren Campbell said from the outside it looked as if the sport was “dying”.
Despite the current hardships brought by Typhoon Hagibis, Japan has welcomed visitors with open arms and has in return been rewarded with some scintillating rugby. The IAAF and Qatar on the other hand? At a time when athletics is rebuilding in the post-Bolt era, the sport has hit a flat note. The heavy-handed management of criticism has been as shambolic as the Championships themselves. As a result, you can only feel for Asher-Smith and co; their dreams have become their sporting nightmares.