Qatari organisers deny free ticket giveaway for IAAF World Championships

A general view inside of Khalifa International Stadium prior to the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on September 24, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

The local organising committee for the World Athletics Championships in Doha has moved to deny reports that migrant workers will be offered free tickets to the event to overcome slow ticket sales.

It has been reported that just 50,000 tickets have been sold for the 10 days of the championships at the Khalifa International Stadium in the Gulf state, meaning the local organising committee is planning to offer free tickets to migrant workers and children to pad out the venue. The Guardian report claimed that organisers will also blank out the top section of the stadium to make it look better on TV.

A spokesperson for the organisers denied any tickets would be given out free of charge to migrant workers or children, stating that children were being offered a 20-per-cent discount on tickets to the event as part of an outreach campaign to younger fans.

A 50,000 sales figure would be a far cry from the 2017 World Championships in London, where over 660,000 tickets were sold, comfortably bettering the previous record of 417,156 sold by the 2009 event in Berlin.

An IAAF spokesperson acknowledged that ticket sales had been ‘challenging’ to The Guardian but said the unexpected blockade of Qatar by other gulf states had prevented fans from the Middle East from travelling to the event. The federation referred SportBusiness to a statement claiming that the upper tier of seating in the Khalifa stadium was never part of the ticketing programme.

“The capacity of Khalifa Stadium for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 was set at 21,000. The political situation in the region has changed since the bid and many athletics fans from the Middle East will not be permitted to travel by their own countries to Qatar for what is the biggest sporting event in the world this year. However, we expect they will be part of a worldwide broadcast audience that should exceed one billion people.

“The Doha LOC has risen to the challenge by running an extensive marketing campaign targeting schools, community groups and the large expatriate communities living in Qatar, and interest in the championships is growing strongly. Given our past experience with the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships and the annual IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha, we expect that will continue to rise over the coming weeks.”

Qatar has previously had to adopt unusual measures to overcome sluggish attendances when hosting major sports events. Faced with the prospect of sections of empty seats during its hosting of the 2015 World Handball Championships, it was reported that the Qatar Handball Federation paid for a group of vocal Spanish handball fans to attend the event, where they were encouraged to play music and cheer on the host team.

The decision to award the championships to Qatar has proved controversial given the oppressive heat in the region and the fact it is not a traditional hotbed for athletics. The men and women’s marathons at this year’s event will start at midnight to overcome the conditions, but the organisers have tried to make a virtue of the late start, describing it as an example of innovation in the sport.

The build-up to the event has also been overshadowed by the ongoing French investigation into the commercial dealings of former president Lamine Diack.

SportBusiness reported in early September that the organisation had been forced to renegotiate sections of a controversial contract agreed by the former president with Japanese marketing agency Dentsu, described by the IAAF’s own lawyer as containing ‘unusual provisions’. Commercial contracts agreed by Diack could also come under further scrutiny in a second, ongoing French enquiry into bribes related to Qatar’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2017 World Athletics Championships and the award of the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo.

Read this: IAAF tries to draw a line under Diack legacy