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US officials hit back at European criticism of Eugene 2021 decision

US athletics officials have hit back at European criticism of the award of the 2021 IAAF World Championships to Eugene, hailing the move by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a “bold decision”.

The IAAF made the surprise announcement on Thursday, stating the proposal to award its premier competition to Eugene, bypassing the usual bidding process, was taken in response to what was seen as a “unique strategic opportunity” to host the World Championships for the first time in the United States.

The move was met by criticism from European Athletics president Svein Arne Hansen, who stated that the Swedish city of Gothenburg had been preparing to take part in a bidding process for the 2021 Championships. Nicknamed TrackTown USA, Eugene has been the site of the past two US Olympic trials and will host the 2016 competition to select the American team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Eugene has also been a staple fixture on the Diamond League circuit, while the city last year hosted the World Junior Championships in Athletics – the first time an IAAF World Athletics Series event had visited the US in more than two decades. “They (the IAAF) deserve a lot of credit for stepping up and making a bold decision to accept this bid outside the process,” TrackTown USA president Vin Lananna, who led Eugene’s bid, said, according to the Reuters news agency.

In November, the IAAF announced that Doha would host its 2019 World Championships, with the Qatari capital defeating rival bids from Barcelona and Eugene for the showpiece event. The IAAF awarded the rights after two rounds of voting. Barcelona’s bid was dropped after securing six votes in the first round, compared to Doha’s 12 and Eugene’s nine. Doha went on to defeat Eugene by 15 votes to 12 to clinch the World Championships.

Lananna added: “I would think the IAAF is fully aware of all of the elements that go into these types of decisions. I think all of us here would be sympathetic to the disappointment of Gothenburg and I think we have all been through it.”

In a statement, Hansen, who was elected European Athletics president at the weekend, expressed his surprise at the “complete lack of process” in the IAAF’s decision. He continued: “The IAAF knew that Gothenburg was a serious candidate for the 2021 World Championships. Swedish Athletics and the city had put in a lot of effort over the years to prepare the bidding application but they have not even been given the chance to bid for the event.

“I have already spoken to Swedish Athletics Federation president Björn Eriksson and he is deeply disappointed about what has happened. I completely understand the disappointment of Björn and Göteborg & Co. CEO Camilla Nyman. I know that 2021 was the most important year for the city because it is when they will celebrate their 400th anniversary. This type of decision would just not happen within European Athletics as we have a comprehensive bidding process that all candidates must follow.”

USA Track & Field (USATF) president Stephanie Hightower noted there is a precedent in the IAAF awarding its showpiece event without a bidding process – most recently in the award of the 2007 World Championships to Osaka, Japan.

“I think there is some precedent here thinking outside of the box, being innovative in thinking and knowing that cities put a lot work into these bid packages,” she said. “I commend the IAAF for understanding that these are big presentations. There is a lot of money involved and they have a forwarding thinking approach that we have these championships planned out long-term.”

Beijing will host this year’s Championships before London takes over in 2017. However, the award of the 2019 and 2021 events to Doha and Eugene means the Championships will be held outside Europe for two consecutive editions for the first time. Hansen added: “This is, of course, not good for the development of our sport on the continent. European Athletics expects the World Championships to come back to Europe in 2023.”