EUGENE, WHERE?

Posted on Wednesday, July 13th, 2022 at 10:21 am and is filed under Butcher's Blog | 15

 

Immediately after the hugely successful World Athletics Championships in Gothenburg 1995 – highlighted by Jonathan Edwards’ world record triple jumps and Michael Johnson’s double gold rehearsal for the following year’s Olympics – IAAF chief Primo Nebiolo declared that future championships were too important to be held in such a small venue. Sweden’s second city still has a population of well over half a million, and the 30,000+ seater stadium was packed for every session. Contrast that with Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon (where? I hear some of you ask), with a population of 174,000, which hosts the delayed 2021 World Championships, beginning on Friday.  The impressive rebuilt stadium (funded by Nike) will normally hold over 12,000 people and though it is alleged to accommodate up to 30,000 for the world champs, local newspapers report a max of 17,000. Well, we’ll see if even those giddy numbers are reached!

Because the US Champs and Trials held at the same venue three weeks ago realised the following attendances, according to official ticket sales announced by USA Track & Field: 23 June, 2,751; 24 June 3,314; 25 June 3,664, and 26 June, 3,577.  A little over 13,000 over four days!  Tokyo Olympic women’s shot put silver medallist Raven Saunders tweeted, ‘We had more fans in Tokyo and we weren’t even allowed to have fans !!!’ On the other hand, the alternative poses different problems.  In the unlikely event of an invasion, there are problems of accessibility; there is only an airfield rather than an airport in Eugene, so visitors have to change at San Francisco or Portland (or get off and drive). And the paucity of accommodation has meant grossly inflated prices, such that even USATF is housing officials in the state capital of Salem (no, not that one), an hour’s drive away. Then, there is the question of restaurant space – even at the poorly attended national champs, contacts who attended tell me that folks were having to drive out of town to search for highway burger bars. Finally, local press are questioning the inflated ticket prices, eg, finish line tickets for the men’s 100 metres’ final on Saturday come in at $910 (£765).

So, either way it’s not going to be pretty on the organisational/infrastructure side.

Now, of course, superlative performances will go a long way to offsetting any shortcomings in venue and hospitality, but this is a championships whose whole raison d’être has been questioned right from the start, when Eugene was given the privilege of hosting the event without the inconvenience of going through a selection process. Dare I say it, but that would be like choosing a new Conservative leader, ergo Prime Minister via a toss of the dice. Come to think about it… however, you will have heard/read more than enough on that score.

By a dark coincidence, Gothenburg was hoping to bid for this week’s upcoming world champs, but their potential bid never even got into the starting blocks. Eugene lost to Doha in the bid for the 2019 World Champs, but immediately got ‘awarded’ the 2021 champs without having to bid. The incoming president of European Athletics, Norway’s Svein Arne Hansen, said at the time (2015), ‘I am very surprised by the complete lack of process in the decision the IAAF has taken. 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. This type of decision would just not happen within European Athletics as we have a comprehensive bidding process that all candidates must follow’.  IAAF president, Lamine Diack said the decision to go the US, ‘enables us to take advantage of a unique opportunity to host a financially successful tournament that may never arise again.’

The decision had all the hallmarks of a stitch-up, with the lettering spelling out ‘Nike’. Briefly, Nike founder Phil Knight went to the University of Oregon in Eugene, and though Nike HQ is in Portland,  two hours’ drive north of Eugene, it is the latter which is known alternatively as NikeTown or Track Town USA. I refer you to my piece following the 2019 World Champs in Doha for further elaboration – https://www.globerunner.org/10/gold-among-dross/

Nebiolo was almost universally vilified by those who did not like his abrasive style, and to my mind, his undoubted complicity in the ‘fixing’ of the world champs long jump in Rome 1987, when Giovanni Evangelisti was given a false distance which earned him the bronze medal (until the fraud was busted). But no one could doubt Nebiolo’s championing of athletics. He engineered the move of IAAF HQ from a back street in Knightsbridge to the middle of Monte Carlo with a commensurate elevation in income and attention. As one of my Italian journo colleagues once said, ‘The first thing that Nebiolo does when he wakes up is think how to improve athletics situation in the sports world; and that’s all he thinks until he goes to sleep at night’. As for his successor, Lamine Diack, aka Lame-Duck, for all that he was initially welcomed as a low-key change after Nebiolo, he proved susceptible to the corrupting influences of a known crook, his son Papa Diack. The pair blackmailed doped athletes, exonerating them in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars (again, check out the Doha piece). That IAAF vice-president Seb Coe, when he took over as President of World Athletics, could claim he never knew anything about the organised corruption being carried out systematically by the Diacks makes him automatically suspect of something – naivety, stupidity, turning a blind eye?

Doha was bad enough, ridiculously high temperatures and pathetically low crowds; following that with Eugene, aka Nowheresville, Oregon is compounding a felony, and is a further measure of the decline in interest and importance of Track & Field Athletics, whose heyday is getting increasingly distant.

 

15 responses to “EUGENE, WHERE?”

  1. Roger Robinson says:

    All fair comment but perhaps premature. A few caveats. An obscure venue can sometimes host highly successful Games or champs. See my chapter on community support in Christchurch 1974 in “When Running Made History,” drawing comparisons with the success of Vancouver 1954 and Melbourne 1956 (when all three were inaccessible dots on the map). Eugene was brilliant as venue for the 1989 World Masters athletics, and I don’t recall any of the 5000 competitors going hungry. There’s a lot to be said for being the only game in town. These 2022 world champs would be unnoticed in New York, and anyway that stadium is on Randall’s Island, three miserable miles from the nearest food or any other service. London made a great job of selling the 2012 Olympics to the community but I can’t imagine West Ham fans getting enthusiastic now about having their pitch dug up pre-season. Clearly you’re right about the danger of Nike dominance (see my piece on the move to professionalism in Podium Runner) but I’d like to see the small print on Hayward’s Field before passing judgment. Attendance? All the American track fans I know are going this week, and could not afford to go also to the Trials. How many Brits went to the 2012 GBR selection meet? And PS the version I heard was that Nebiolo woke up every day and spent five minutes planning his own path to glory. He loved his power, not the sport.

  2. Pat says:

    A measured response as usual from my old colleague and sometime adversary, Roger Robinson. I will only defend Nebiolo (for once); he was sat all night in the tent which housed the reception following the hastily re-arranged World Cross 1982 – after Warsaw had had to cry off, following the Solidarity uprising. He was at the Italian team table for hours, and clearly knew all the athletes, something I doubt would be the case with many national officials, let alone the President of the IAAF.

  3. Coach J says:

    Going to Eugene. The evening sessions are sold out, so the stands will be full. Too many meets at that site this year but the worlds will rock. BTW- 8 weekends an autumn, 55 thousand fill up their college football stadium, many staying the whole weekend. The town can handle it.

  4. benny goodman says:

    The comment that not many people went to the British trials before the successful London 2012 is the sort of weird and inappropriate comparison with the mighty American trials, which i thought would not be stated by any thoughtful journalist, more like a Lets run poster!!.The whole sorry saga about the selection of Eugene and its little flashy stadium, plus tower and absurd Jumbotron is a disgrace to track and field, but i am sure the USA will get more medals than in Tokyo. !!!

  5. Nick says:

    …and let’s not forget what comes after Doha and Eugene: Budapest with Mr Viktor Orbán in the VIP box.

  6. Timothy S. Chapman says:

    The selection of Eugene boils down to one word NIKE.

  7. Flash says:

    Your piece certainly has some merit in regards to Nike influence, Lamine Diack and his son being crooks for years, and Seb Coe blatantly unaware about corruption by aka Lame Duck, as you dubbed him, while being next in command for Presidency of the then named IAAF. However, you have to give this year’s Championships a chance to be successful before you start eviscerating it. For some reason, pundits in Europe, plus some of the hierarchy of the old IAAF, felt that North America wasn’t capable of hosting the Worlds. Then in 2001 Edmonton hosted the Games with success, and two decades later, here we are again, in Eugene. Track and field is a global sport just like football (soccer), and shouldn’t be restricted to one region or continent. The World Cup has been played on all continents, and track and field should adopt that same principle. It shouldn’t be just restricted to just Europe alone. And therein lies the problems. We need to be expansive with track and field in order to continue it’s growth. Just give it a chance before you send in the calvary.

  8. Skuj says:

    I can’t follow this article. The title suggests “Eugene is a small hicktown”, but then the article meanders around selection politics, Doha failings, former IAAF Presidents, corruption, ticket costs…. I mean, which issue do you wish us to focus on? Anyway, Eugene is not London, but it is quite capable of getting this right. Size isn’t everything.

  9. Tom Derderian says:

    My friend the late Dick Quax with whom I spent many happy hours, called Eugene, Hooterville, to indicate, I presumed, that the town lacked the sophistication of any town in New Zealand.

  10. Louis Lozano says:

    Will people just enjoy the world championships & Spectacular Hayward field! I went to 5 meets at Hayward this spring/summer! I live 2 & 1/2 hours south of Eugene! Eugene is a magnificent city with lots of great food!

  11. Sean says:

    Eugene is not nowheresvill in the US track and field world. Hayward field has hosted the last 4 US Olympic trials (all but one prior the stadium renovation) and three other consecutively in the 70’s. Its also hosted 9 of the last 13 D1 NCAA national championships. UO has a pretty legendary track and field program, Prefontaine, Otis Davis, many others. Overall, UO track program has 4th most team titles, 3rd most individual titles. Also Eugene is not really a hick town, more a grateful dead college town. Its probably too small a venue for such a big event but 100% Eugene is not nowhere, especially, in the US track and field scene.

  12. charles yo says:

    All very good points made in this article. The US track people have never missed a chance to do something wrong with the sport, and they have continued to do so here. Eugene is indeed Tracktown, but it is also “nowheres-ville” in regard to infrastructure. This die hard track fan is not going to worlds, not because of the stadium or ticket prices, but the serious amount of cash and pure hassle of flying or driving to Eugene and then… where to stay? The stadium is built to be a crown jewel but it is in the middle of a small town that has growing pains when it comes to this.

    And as far as the criticism of the original article, it is necessary to note the prior leaders of the IAAF, and their associated corruption, to see the history of WHY we’re at this place: A too-small town with growing pains, hosting the biggest track meet in the world outside of the Olympics. Hayward field itself is worthy of this meet, but there is a disconnect with the logistics and the location. And long after some excellent races have been run, we’ll be dealing with any number of issues regarding transportation and housing.

  13. Pete says:

    Weird article. Eugene (metro population 374,000) regularly hosts large events, including ~60,000 per weekend for college football games in the fall. On top of that, most of the University’s 20,000 university students are on summer break, giving the town a decidedly uncrowded feel. Eugene *Airport* has commercial flights to every US airline hub west of Chicago, and Portland International Airport is two hours away by rental car. I attended Sunday and Tuesday sessions and there was virtually no traffic and parking was easy to find. Wonderful experience.

  14. Skuj says:

    So, um, is Pat Butcher going to go home devastated?

  15. Pat says:

    No!

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