Last week's Asian Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar were held at Khalifa International Stadium, the same place where this fall's World Championships will be held. These days I'm working with three members of the Japanese team at the Asian Championships and went along to help them out and to check out the stadium and surrounding area. The below was my personal experience throughout the four days of the AAC.
At that point a passing official from Ireland noticed us and tried to help, explaining to the ticket takers and security that we were paying customers. "You must talk to the Captain," said the security guy. "Where is he?" asked the official. "Go to Gate 22," he said. At Gate 22 they didn't know anything about the Captain, so we went back to Gate 24. After much discussion they reluctantly scanned our tickets, 40 minutes after I'd bought mine. Security went through everything in our bags, and then we were in.
We would have liked to, but the seats were in filthy condition, covered in dirt and bird shit and with construction debris everywhere. Chunks of wood, sections of drywall, construction workers' discarded gloves, and long screws everywhere, on the seats, the ground, everywhere. It looked as though the seating had never been cleaned since construction had been finished. Luckily we had packages of wetwipes and cleaned off our seats as best we could.
As on Day One the air conditioning in the stadium kept things cool. The screen always said it was 22˚C to 23˚C, but it felt colder. Cold enough to be uncomfortable in short sleeves, especially if the wind blew at all and once the sun went down. Good for the athletes, but worth bringing something to pull on for spectators. Also as on Day One, it rained around 9:00 p.m., much harder this time.
Back at the ticket window Marnya told me I was the third person to get tickets for day three. They were still free. I asked for two, the same seat I'd had the day before and one in the same place as on Day One for the women's 10000 m. "I'll just give you ones where you can sit anywhere in your section," she said. Security at Gate 8 pretty much ignored me, with one volunteer scanning my ticket on his phone and then waving me through.
The attendance story was pretty much the same throughout the session, even with the 4x100 m finals happening. The women's 10000 m was the last event of the night, and to get around to the other side I tried going through the interior hallway. Where they wouldn't even let us go through an interior door two doors down from the number on our ticket on the first day, this time nobody challenged me the whole way around the stadium, even at the door to my section. I went to the exact same seat as on the first day, good old Seat 24. To my surprise, although the seats were still dirty all the construction debris was gone. It must have been a massive job to get done that quickly.
What people there were in the stadium for the relays mostly cleared out before the women's 10000 m, the last on the program for the day. Just before the race started I counted 101 people in the stands not including volunteers and staff or people wearing Japanese national team uniforms. It had to have been the low point in attendance throughout the week.
Early on there weren't that many people, but as the day went on and the men's high jump final got started that section started filling up. Qatar's defending world champion Mutaz Essa Barshim wasn't jumping but was there in the stands, and it was pretty obvious that he had helped bring some buzz to the high jump for the home crowd.
That spilled over into the other events going on at the same time and afterward. By the time of the 4x400 m relays that closed the Asian Championships it was even getting rowdy. It was only in that one part of the stadium, but for the first time in the four days there was some real energy and enthusiasm from the local fans.
There was obviously an issue of visibility. My Airbnb host across the park from the stadium hadn't known the Asian Championships were happening until I told him that's why I was there, and I didn't see any advertising around town except at the airport when I got there. But once word got around the numbers did go up. How much further can they go for the World Championships this fall, and how many fans will make the trip from abroad?
Khalifa International Stadium is beautiful and cleaned up nicely, and things went more smoothly as the Asian Championships went on. But it's hard to see it packed with the kind of ravenous full house we saw at the 2017 London World Championships. The local VIP seating section in the center of the home straight looked pretty much hard-wired, but will they keep the buffer zone of blocked-off seating on either side for Worlds? Let's hope that the right lessons were learned from this practice run for the fall's main event and that there are fewer empty seats everywhere, whatever the final numbers.
text and photos © 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved