As Dina Asher-Smith took to the starting blocks for the women’s 100m final, silence descended on the Khalifa International Stadium. But that was not out of respect for the finest female sprinters in the world as they waiting for the starter’s gun, but because there was almost nobody present.
It was a strange situation for everybody watching on television as this elite event took place in a hollow atmosphere, in a stadium that could hold 40,000 people. It was another thrilling race which saw the dominant force of women’s sprinting for the past decade, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, romp home to gold ahead of Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, who will be targeting the top spot on the podium in the 200m.
Perhaps the most bizarre moment of the event came as the three medal-winning athletes did their traditional lap of honour, where they usually would receive the warm applause of the crowd and pose for pictures. Instead, in front of empty stands, the trio walked around sheepishly, not knowing how to act after one of the biggest achievements in their entire careers.
Former British athlete Denise Lewis did not hold back while speaking on the BBC:
“We've waited til October to have stands like this, empty. Absolutely shocking. The athletes, they work so hard, they try to peak at the right time for an empty stadium, I just think it's not right. Our governing body has let our athletes down massively.”
Despite all the money and sporting structure pumped into the country, you cannot generate fans and feign interest in the event. The same World Championships were played out in front of a sell-out crowd in London two years ago and will be hugely popular in the USA in 2021, and should never have been held in front of an empty stadium. If there has been any incentive offered to entice people to go to the stadiums it clearly hasn’t worked.
The crowds have not been the only issue. Even after moving the games to October, the heat has been unbearable for long-distance runners. The women’s marathon descended into chaos as a record 28 athletes failed to finish due to the heat. Despite the race starting at midnight, temperatures stuck around 32.7 degrees and the humidity was an unbearable 73 per cent.
41 per cent of the field were unable to finish, several of them taken off the track in wheelchairs, suffering from exhaustion. This is not what anybody wants to see in sport and it does not bode well for the 2022 World Cup. That tournament has been widely criticised for the worker’s rights and it’s difficult to get across just how hot it is in Qatar right now.
Iphones have stopped working due to the 40°C heat and a dismal ‘rest shelter’ for the workers has been built in the centre circle of the stadium that will host the World Cup opener and final.
An expert on migrant rights, Nicholas McGeehan, stated that: “According to Met Office data (temp 39, humidity 44%) the WBGT is 31.66 which more or less means nobody should be working - 15 mins work every hour and 45 mins rest in a cooled area to prevent heat illness.”
Clearly the heat is almost unbearable for workers and athletes alike and all of this turmoil is not worth it, to perform in front of empty stands. FIFA keep reiterating that the tournament will be a success but if the athletics are anything to go by it will be a catastrophic disaster for the world of sport.