As instant gratification infiltrates every sphere of human life, sporting codes grapple with the existential question of how to remain relevant.
The senses are constantly bombarded and it is no wonder people’s attention spans are like that of goldfish.
Sport had to find ways to keep its audience captivated and the result is often a shorter format of the original code.
This has been the case with rugby, cricket and netball with the shorter formats offering a new revenue stream.
Athletics is yet to have its revolution but IAAF president Seb Coe suggested track and field may soon receive its long-awaited overhaul. Except for the odd Diamond League meeting and the biennial World Championships, track and field events battle to fill stadiums.
US sprint legend Michael Johnson recently suggested some of the events on the programme needed to be culled.
“Antiquated format, too many events, mix of events too different to create a marketable narrative. Then there’s doping! All fixable,” Johnson said on Twitter.
This week Coe said athletics needed to look at IPL cricket, among others, to breathe new life into the sport.
“Everything is on the table. Frankly, I’m not ruling anything out,” Coe was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“The London World Championships was fabulous but is it sensible that it runs over 10 days anymore? Do we have fewer athletes? Do we concertina the World Championships to semis and finals?
“These are the things that are on the table and I don’t want to remove them until we’ve had a possibly uncomfortable set of conversations. You’re going to have to challenge a lot of the orthodoxies.”
The last two years have seen panic set in over the retirement of Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt. This infatuation with Bolt did perhaps more damage than good for the sport, but for almost a decade his antics on the track captured the imagination of non-traditional athletics fans.
Every sport needs its personalities but it is certainly not the lifeblood of any code’s existence or what attracts most of its fans.
There has also perhaps been an overemphasis on records and fast times and not enough focus on rivalries on the day.
The current format does not work and although the average programme can fit into two hours, it is often removed from the spectators.
In any cull, some of the field events would be high on the list while distance events such as the 10,000m may not survive in the court of public opinion. To the layperson watching people run around a 400m track 25 times is like watching paint dry, but the intrigue of the tactics is what captivates the purist.
“It’s hard for the sport to have real identity when it’s spread over so many different disciplines,” Johnson told The Times of London. “Football is football. Basketball is basketball. It’s very simple and I think market research will show that people want that simple narrative. You have to simplify the sport and it’s difficult to do that when you have people sprinting, running middle-distance and longer distance, and walking. Throwing this implement and that implement. Jumping high, jumping long. It’s just too much.”
He has a point but athletics is the purest form of sport where every shape and size can excel if they put in the hard work and dedication. Athletics needs to change if it wants to compete with the big sports that are already attracting some of its best talents.
Some tough decisions may have to be made or some visionary thinking from the powers that be, but at least track and field has started the process of introspection.