Finals-only Night Sessions By Beijing

Reuters Internet Delivery System

By John Mehaffey

ATHENS, March 30 - Facing increasing competition for television spectators, the world governing athletics body plans to make the sport more attractive to the casual viewer by staging finals only in the evening sessions of major events.

At the conclusion of a two-day IAAF television seminar on Tuesday, competitions director Sandro Giovanelli told Reuters that the body responsible for the core sport of the Olympic Games would relegate all qualifying rounds to morning sessions. Eighty percent of the IAAF’s revenue comes from television.

Giovanelli said a new timetable would not be possible for next year’s world championships in Helsinki but would be in place for the 2007 Osaka championships and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Definitely in Osaka there will be a new schedule and then after that in Beijing,” Giovanelli said.

Figures released during the seminar showed that 80 percent of television time is devoted to soccer and seven percent to motor sports. Athletics is just one of the other major sports competing for the remaining 20 percent.

David Neal, executive vice-president for the U.S. network NBC, the official broadcasters for this year’s Athens Olympics, told the seminar that television coverage needed to evolve.

Neal said triple Olympic champion Marion Jones would not be recognised on the street in the United States.

“American viewers have a very short attention span,” he said. “For the casual viewer aged from 18 to 34 it’s important to tell stories and engage the audience.”

IAAF vice-president Lou Dapeng from China, who will play a leading role in the Beijing schedule, said there was a close bond between soccer spectators and the players.

“In our sport they come and watch but they don’t understand,” he said. “They lack the emotion. You must put in the emotions that connect the athletes and the public.”

Seminar chairman Alex Gilady, chairman of the IAAF television commission and a member of the International Olympic Committee, said the challenge was to compress an evening programme into 2-1/2 hours of prime time television. He also raised the possibility of athletes having the same competition number for the duration of their career in order to be more easily identified.

“Athletes will have the same number for all competitions for all their lives to make them stars,” he said.

IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai told Reuters he thought a better idea would be to have athletes’ names rather than their numbers on the vests.

“That’s a totally new idea,” he said. “The solution is the names on the bib.”