CHAIRMAN OF THE BASC JOHN STANDERLINE SAYS THE WORLD PARA CHAMPS ACTED AS A GREAT APPETISER FOR THE IAAF WORLD CHAMPS
Sitting in the Olympic Stadium (sorry but it will always have that name for me) for the World Para Athletic Championships I was taken back to the Paralympics of 2012. That event 5 years ago was a step change in attendance at para athletics events even allowing for the fact that many people attended because they just wanted to visit the Olympic Park, especially if they had missed out on tickets for the Olympics.
Since then para-athletics events in the UK have either had significantly less people attending or a large part of the crowd leave once the able-bodied events finished. But London 2017 has changed the standard again and whilst attendance is lower than it will be for the IAAF Championships, one Saturday evening at the London ‘Paras’ probably had more spectators than attended the whole of the previous Championships in Doha.
Having the Para Athletics Championships in London in the same location as the IAAF Championships was always going to be help in encouraging people to attend but letting these athletes compete as the first event – and not as an afterthought - was a very positive idea.
London was praised by athletes not just for the noise when a GB athlete ran, but the support and respect shown to all athletes by the knowledgeable crowd.
Not all athletics supporters follow para-athletics. They see difficulties with classification and minimal competitors in some categories. This is a pity because genuine hard-fought competition at these championships, with every para athlete being as keen to succeed as their able bodied companions.
We looked in awe at the javelin thrower throwing nearly 60 metres without a run up and at the high jumper entering the competition at the winning height and then achieving three world records.
Para-athletics needs large crowds to help create publicity to encourage youngsters to join the sport. Consequently, if we can offer more support then the argument about events having limited depth will disappear.
Who could fail to enjoy the hard men of Para Athletics, the T54 wheel chair racers. With seven men finishing the 5,000 metres within a few metres of each other the finish was closer than similar able-bodied events and watching it was like seeing a car race. And the female T54 races were no less hard fought with Tanya McFadden the outstanding star.
Around 20,000 school children in the stadium on a couple of occasions was great to see (or more precisely to hear). Strangely the Monday kids were very noisy whilst those on Tuesday were more controlled at track event starts.
Introducing so many children to the sport we love was great but why did more schools not take up the offer to attend? There was lots of space available.
A small grumble would be to question why the materials provided to schools did not explain the different athletics events and the different categories or did not explain the etiquette of being at athletic events (for example being quiet at track starts, clapping if field athletes request it).
The World Para Athletics Championships were summed up by one BASC member who wrote “I am very much enjoying watching the Para World Games. Such a lot of great achievements and sportsmanship, with added drama on some occasions. A great inspiration to any young disabled person.”
Although I think that the inspiration was for any sports person, not just disabled athletes.
Now the IAAF World Championships are upon us. I am looking forward to just being in the stadium and hearing the roar of the sold-out sessions.
I expect it to re-create the atmosphere of the London Olympics with the added sentimental runs of Mo Farah and Usain Bolt appearing in their last Championships. Aside from these headlines, I think we are in a period of change and it will be fascinating to see new talent coming to the fore.