ARE you watching the IAAF World Athletics Championships? If you are, it is a pretty safe bet you are doing so from your sofa, rather than from the stands of the Khalifa Stadium in Doha.

If they weren’t benefitting from first-class flights and the best seats in the house, perhaps some of those who voted to bring these championships to this tiny Gulf state in preference to Oregon and Barcelona might be watching events this week from behind their sofas.

Because as laudable a mission as it is to bring sport to different parts of the world, the abiding image of his games will be the banks upon banks of empty seats, some of them rather unsuccessfully hidden by banners, around this 40,000-seater stadium as the finest athletes in the world battle it out for global glory.

Empty seats are always bad for business. SPFL chairmen and broadcasters can tell you that. But these paltry crowds aren’t just a disaster for athletics in general and a personal slight to figures such as Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, whose lap of honour after claiming a remarkable silver medal came in front of around 1,000 people, most of whom were accredited officials and journalists working away to deadline.


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The decision to take the World Cup to Qatar in 2022 might have been a legacy of Sepp Blatter’s disgraced regime, but no-one should be shifting more uncomfortably in their seat right now than Fifa President Gianni Infantino.

We are closing in on three years now until the 2022 World Cup gets under way. The likes of Australia and Japan are amongst those nations to have got their qualifying campaigns underway already.

Three years then for Fifa and the Qatari organising committee to do everything in their power to ensure that the decision to take football’s global footballing showpiece to this Tiny gulf state in preference to rival bids from the USA, Australia, Japan and South Korea doesn’t prove equally corrosive to football’s public image. Right now, things don’t look good for them.

Why exactly have attendances been so low for this week’s World Championships? Well, for all that Qatar 2022’s prospectus claimed there would be ‘no empty seats’, what else did the IAAF genuinely expect from a nation of just 2.6m people, where 88% of the population are ex-pat workers with little interest in certain events?

While attendances for the first few days were given around the 11,000 mark, organisers quietly admitted that they were closer to 8,000 on the night of the women’s 100m final – bolstered by many free tickets handed out to those migrant workers. And almost all of them had clearly long since left the stadium by the time the likes of Asher Smith and eventual winner Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce entered the fray.

A schedule heavily weighted towards the global TV audience – that race started at 11.20pm local time – was another factor. So too is the tense political situation.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have all imposed a blockade on Qatar, who they accuse of supporting terrorism.

All in all, at a time when athletics has found itself rocked again by the four-year ban handed down to US coach Alberto Salazar, these have seemed like the wrong championships in the wrong place at the wrong time. “All Doha has is money,” one Spanish IAAF executive was overheard saying this week.


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This is the other worldly backdrop to which the biggest footballing party in the world is about to be parachuted into, bankrolled by millions more petrodollars.

Unlike the World Athletics in Doha, Qatar 2022 can count, of course, on some serious travelling supporters making the journey. If Scotland are lucky enough to make it to their first World Cup since France 1998, it will take something fairly remarkable to put a fair contingent of Tartan Army footsoldiers from making the journey. They may even be able to enjoy themselves despite stringent rules against drinking alcohol in public places.

But it is fair to suggest that the November start, not to mention the political considerations, might scare off some of the likely travellers.

And it is also unclear whether there will be any more appetite among the locals to watch matches during the World Cup than there is for the athletics or their domestic Qatari Stars League.

At last summer’s AFC Asian Cup finals in the nearby United Arab Emirates - won by Qatar in the final against Japan - the average crowd was 12,633, with one Qatar match attended by just 452 people

While the November start will cause chaos to most of the top leagues in the world, at least temperatures for the players and fans alike will be around five degrees lower.

Add that to the air-cooling technology in most of the stadiums and it – might – just be enough to prevent any repeat of the horrific scenes at the women’s marathon this week, where 28 of the 68 competitors withdrew due to the heat and humidity, some having to be carted off in a wheelchair. As fifth-placed Volha Mazuronak of Belarus, who struggled to finish, put it: “A bunch of high ranked officials gathered and decided to take the world championships here but they are sitting in the cool and probably sleeping right now.”

Alarm bells will be ringing alright for Infantino, who recently dropped a plan to expand the Qatar World Cup from 32 to 48 teams, perhaps allowing the Gulf state to share the hosting honours with one of its neighbours. The World Cup has never been a richer commodity, but more empty seats out in Qatar come late 2022 really would show Fifa up as a morally bankrupt organisation.