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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Diamond League

On Monday, the IAAF unveiled plans for a transformation of the Golden League, called the "Diamond League".  It does away with the overall jackpot competition between athletes in separate events and expands the series to fifteen meets (from six) on three continents (from one).  A season-long points ranking will be kept for each event, with the seasonal winners taking home 4-carat diamonds, and after 2010 the World Athletics Final will go away.


More notably, it takes away some of the independence of each meet promoter in favor of strengthening the series as a whole.  The biggest stars will be signed to a series contract with minimum participation requirements, which (theoretically) will lessen if not eliminate meet-versus-meet appearance fee bidding wars.  Each meet's slate of events will be determined by the IAAF and will include at least half of the 32 standard men's & women's events (meet promoters will be allowed to add up to three additional events of their choosing).


These changes address some of the problems inherent in the Golden League system.  First off, the series was intermittent.  Last year there were two meets in early June, then a six-week break before another two weeks, and another seven-week break before the final two meets.  Continuity was not there. 


Secondly, it gets more athletes attention (and paychecks).  Some events, such as the women's pole vault and the men's mile, were part of the gold jackpot series almost every year, while others never were.  The diversity of track & field is its strength.


Third, the series reflects the reality of which meets are the best.  It will basically combine the Golden League and Super Grand Prix meets (which are often superior to the GL), plus adding two or three more.  Moving the premier series to a more global format should get "emerging" markets more involved. It's no accident that meets included in the series are in the Middle East (Doha), China (Beijing), and the USA (Eugene and New York).


I was initially worried that fifteen meets would be too many for the top stars to compete with any regularity, but the glamour events (men's 100 and mile, women's pole vault) won't be held nearly as often as they used to be—maybe eleven times or less.  If you have to run at least six meets, it will be hard to duck the competition, especially if you're targeting a late-summer peak. 


By forcing each event to be held at least eight times, the ones that never used to get any attention, such as the women's shot, will have a chance to show what they can do.  The best unknown rivalry in the world is Valerie Vili versus Nadezhda Ostapchuk; the Belarussian went halfway around the world to face off against the Kiwi last week, and they'll be happy to go toe-to-toe every time a paycheck is available.


Will the new circuit help track & field in the USA?  It probably can't hurt.  The new system will likely bring more big stars to our two stops on the tour.  I figure the IAAF will sell the rights to the Diamond League as a package, and whoever wants the Eugene and New York meets will have to show the other thirteen.  The only downside to this would be if NBC takes it and purges the foreign meets to Universal Sports—which, at this point, is not widely carried.  One hopes the IAAF would be wise enough to take a bit less money in order to mandate coverage on a commonly available cable channel.

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