IAAF chief executive Jon Ridgeon has admitted attendances at the World Athletics Championships have been below expectations and said the blockade of Qatar has been a factor in the poor turnout for the event.
The federation has been roundly criticised by former athletes after some of the major finals in the championships have taken place against a backdrop of empty seats.
Ridgeon said the economic and diplomatic embargo of Qatar started by four of its neighbours in the Middle East in June 2017 had played a part in the disappointing crowds.
“You must remember when this event was awarded six or seven years ago, it was always positioned as a celebration of athletics within the Middle East,” he told the BBC. “Clearly, geo-politics has shifted since, there is a blockade of this country from all the neighbouring surrounding countries and that has impacted.”
He said: “I’m not blaming it, but it’s one of the factors, but you have to understand the political challenges this country faces right now, which was never envisaged when this meeting was awarded.”
The local organising committee also responded to the criticisms by releasing a statement in which it claimed the need to appeal to global TV audiences had had an impact on local turnout.
“The challenge we face with a competition schedule that is geared to support global TV viewership, is that some finals are not starting until the late evening. This impacts on the number of spectators remaining until the end of the session. We know it is a balance and we are pleased global viewers can tune in to watch the live action from Doha.”
There is anecdotal evidence that crowds have been better for the distance events because they take place earlier in the schedule and are more appealing to the local population.
“The pattern of the attendance so far follows the interests of the local community, with middle and long distance races pulling in the biggest crowds, rather than traditional sprint events, and we would like to thank all the fans that have supported these athletes,” said the LOC statement.
The LOC indicated it would engage in further outreach efforts to fill the stadiums: “We are confident that our renewed efforts will encourage the local community to come and witness the stunning performance of the world’s best athletes,” it said.
Ridgeon refused to comment when the BBC put it to him that the Qatari armed forces had been invited to fill out parts of the Khalifa International Stadium.