THE Diamond League, showcase of elite athletics, opens for its sixth year in Doha next Friday.

It is the first of 14 meetings worldwide and carries $8m in prize money.

They present the sport dramatically, theatrically, and Britain enjoys a deserved reputation for delivering some of the best meetings.

Only the USA and UK (Birmingham and London) host two Diamond League meetings, the latter being the only two-day one.

Though traditionalists baulk at presentation gimmicks - particularly intrusive music which even offends some competitors - as a spectacle, both live and on TV, UK Athletics' two flagship events are outstanding.

Each individual Diamond League victory is worth $10,000, down to $1000 for eighth at each meeting. Points are accumulated through the season (doubled at the final meeting). The outright Diamond Race winner in each of 32 disciplines receives $40,000 and a diamond trophy. Each discipline is contested seven times over the summer.

It's a more complex formula compared to the Golden League where, for 12 years, winners of all seven events shared $1m. On three occasions a single woman: Maria Mutola (800m), Tatiana Lebedeva (triple jump), and Pamela Jelimo (800m) pocketed the cash. The Golden Four, prior to that, gave hurdler Colin Jackson $250,000 in gold bullion for a 100% record.

But how relevant to the sport in Britain is the Diamond League now?

Just five British athletes featured in last year's final Diamond Race standings. The best two were Scots: European champion Eilidh Child (second at 400m hurdles) and Commonwealth silver medallist Lynsey Sharp (third at 800m). Tiffany Porter (100m hurdles), Jodie Williams (200m), and Martyn Rooney (400m) were the only other Brits in the final.

Yet staggeringly, from 112 attempts by the cream of Britain's international team only five meritted a place in the deciding meeting of the points race.

The IAAF Challenge and European permit meetings also offer elite competitive opportunities, but ambitious athletes should aspire to face the very best.

Child contested five Diamond Leagues at the insistence of her coach, Malcolm Arnold. She needed to attack races and improve her A-game against the world elite. A former UK director of coaching and mentor to two world-record hurdlers, Arnold is among the word's most distinguished and respected coaches.

He believes athletes should not duck the grand prix circuit: "I think to compete at the highest level of athletics should always be a good athlete's aim, so they should be part of the Diamond League, aiming for the top. Go back to my old friend Colin Jackson, and Linford Christie, Steve Backley and Jonathan Edwards."

They became respectively world 110 hurdles record-holder, Olympic 100m champion, European and Commonwealth javelin champion, and world triple jump record-holder.

"They were always to the fore in the Diamond League because that's where you find the best competition. That's why the Americans spend enormous amounts of time in Europe for the Diamond League, to compete at that level."

For Child, he says, there was no debate: "She has a living to make, and to make a living you must compete - and compete against the best. Our aim is to get to the highest level possible, and that's the World Championships in Beijing. A minimum standard there is to reach the final. The next is to do better than last time, which was fifth. If she gets better than fifth, she is aiming for a medal."

It's disturbing to find how few of the GB elite cut it at Diamond League level.

Is the lottery to blame? It is both blessing and curse. It saves athletes who have bills to pay from risking injury when not 100%, yet Scottish icons like Liz McColgan, Yvonne Murray, and Tom McKean were all fighting their way up the food chain when they had already achieved performances far beyond that at which young athletes today are funded. Lottery support is modest for developing athletes, far from life-changing. But receiving it may negatively influence mindset, encourage athletes to think they have arrived when they have still

some way to go.

"Athletes of the calibre of these Scots are just not around now," observes Arnold. "There are only two or three really good athletes. Before, there were a couple of handfuls of really outstanding ones. What is happening to the development of these athletes?"

What indeed?