athletics; field;track

Blog: World Athletics Championships 2017

The World Athletics Championships 2017 are finished. Over 700, 000 spectators in London watched the spectacular highs, lows and upsets across track and field.

Justin Gatlin beat Usain Bolt in 100 metres sprint. World record hurdler Kendra Harrison failed to medal in sprint hurdles.

Olympic champion Wayde Van Niekerk won gold in 400m. Issac Makwala won nothing. Silver for Sir Mo Farah’s final hurrah in Men’s 5,000m final.

Britain finished fourth in medal table.

And, Britain and Northern Ireland medal standing raises questions.  £27 million funding spent on UK athletics in this Olympic cycle? Why only one individual medal to show for it?

What is the quality of British coaching? Do Great Britain and Northern Ireland have enough strength and depth to challenge for future medals? What does it mean to come 4th? Where is the sport going?

UK Athletics has much to ponder now.


In the final weekend, the Great Britain and Northern Ireland squad had one medal.

The largest squad sent to the Championships had been set six medal targets. This looked out of reach with Sir Mo Farah winning the only gold in the Men’s 10,000 metres.

Robbie Grabarz and Laura Muir failed to medal in their individual events in the men’s high jump and women’s 5,000m. So, the goal tally relied on Team GB & NI reaching their Championship target on the last day.

Silver for Sir Mo Farah’s 5, 000 metres final, Women’s 4x100m Silver and 4x400m Bronze relays and bronze for Men’s 4x400m relay. And, not forgetting the nail biting finish in the Men’s 4x100m gold sprint quartet beating USA and Japan.

But, the governing body the IAAF faced PR issues over the ten-day competition. A US athlete with two drugs bans won a gold medal.

Issac Makwala prevented from running in the much-hyped Men’s 400m final against world recorder holder Wayde Van Niekerk due to a stomach flu outbreak.

And, can the IAAF force a female athlete to take medication lowering her high hormone levels?


Athlete Justin Gatlin twice banned for doping offences, won a surprise victory in the Men’s 100m final. Gatlin was booed in the heats, semi-final and final.

The crowd dissatisfaction grew even louder when they realised Gatlin won gold and ruined Usain Bolt’s final farewell.

The wider question is must athletes be banned for life after drug convictions? There is an argument this is potentially a ‘restraint of trade.’ After all, athletes need to earn a living.

Portland Communications published their first UK Sports Integrity Index 2017. One finding suggests ‘…athletics is one of the least trusted sports…’ Some people watch athletics wondering if they are watching a clean race.  The doping issue hangs like a heavy cloud over athletics.

Doping is not the only issue. There are former executives accused of corruption. In addition, there are concerns around Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE), which allow athletes to take banned substances for medical reasons.

How does the IAAF manage this from a PR perspective?

By being honest with public.  Some people will automatically assume the governing body is ‘spinning’ the story.

Own the responsibility of sorting out the problems. This is the reality.


Botswana athlete Issac Makana claimed the IAAF unfairly barred him from running 400m final against Olympic champion Wayde Van Niekerk after a sickness bug outbreak.

The IAAF stated they followed Public Health England advice insisted giving clear communication to the Botswana delegation.

Yet, the Botswana Athletes Association thought differently. They claimed the decision ‘disturbing’.

The IAAF faced a difficult decision. But. duty of care for all athletes must come first. The

athletes governing body defended their decision, while expressing sympathy for Makwana.

Released emails sent to the Botswana team and released to the press and social media explained why their athlete couldn’t run after medical examination.

But, Live TV is where this issue played out. And, cracks appeared.

The IAAF hardly released any information. Failure to release timely and accurate information created a void. This made control the messaging harder, especially on social media.

And, created space for speculation to grow quickly, especially for live BBC coverage.

The BBC interviewed two members of the Botswana team live on air, first. Where was the IAAF rep?

This situation put the IAAF on the back foot. Surely, they must respond at this point. But, no.

Eventually, the IAAF spokesperson showed up for a live BBC interview. This helped to establish facts on the story. But, the IAAF took far too long to reply. And, this allowed the Botswana team to control the story.

So, think about what people need to know. Not what you think needs to be said.


Olympic champion Caster Semanya won her third gold in the Women’s 800 metre final on the closing night of the World Championships.

But, the result did little to detract on the on-going debate. Should she race against women?

Semanya has hyperandrogenism, which means she produces higher levels of testosterone than normal.

And, the world athletics bodies are debating whether Semanya takes medication to lower her testosterone or, even quit the sport.

The IAAF argue this may give the athlete an unfair advantage. However, the athletics governing body cleared her to run in 2010.

On the eve of Semanya’s World Championship 800m final, press reports suggest the IAAF is considering legal avenues to limit the athlete’s testosterone levels.

This made headlines around the world. Why didn’t the governing body wait until the Championships to debate this publicly? The IAAF handled this poorly.

There is a loss of confidence in the IAAF handling key issues. The governing body must sort this out quickly. Or, the public starts to lose faith in the sport.

Need help with reputation management?  This can have a big impact on a way a sporting club, organisation or individual is viewed publicly. Get in touch.


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