With yesterday's announcement of the new IAAF Diamond League set to be launched in 2010, organizers of many of the world's top athletics meetings hope that the new system will encourage more head-to-head competition between marquis athletes while eliminating the contrived battles between athletes who compete in completely different disciplines.
"The change is one step," said Patrick Magyar, who directs the Weltklasse in Zürich, during a conference call with reporters yesterday. "Is change ever enough in a time like ours? Probably not. The world evolves at very high speed. It's going to be a big change. It's a system through which we allocate the disciplines which will allow the head-to-heads." He added: "This is just one major step."
Under the new Diamond League format, the current six-meeting ÅF Golden League program will be scrapped. While the Golden League offered suspense in the form of a winner-take-all Jackpot for any athlete who won their discipline in all six meetings, it failed to provide any real incentives for the top stars to compete against each other throughout the season. For instance, in 2008, Usain Bolt only raced Asafa Powell twice in invitational meetings and Bolt only raced Tyson Gay once (although Gay was injured for part of the year). Since athletes will be contracted to compete in multiple meetings under one fee arrangement, they will essentially be forced to race the other athletes who are also on the tour.
"We believe the best athletes will gain from participating in the Diamond League meetings because it will be the most money available," said DN Galan meet director Rajne Söderberg. "The total prize money will be highest of all the meetings. The incentive will be to participate in these meetings."
A total of 15 meetings in 12 countries on three continents are slated for the new league, although three have not yet finalized their contracts. Sixteen athletics disciplines will be contested in each meet, and points will be assigned based on order of finish. At the end of the season, which will wrap up in September, the highest point scorers in each discipline will be awarded a diamond worth about $80,000. Unlike the Golden League, there will be no overall champion, although the IAAF will still designate a male and female athlete of the year. Furthermore, after 2010, the IAAF World Athletics Final will be eliminated, a costly meet which has never stirred strong fan interest.
How athletes and managers react to the new program remains to be seen as most are just digesting the news now. Some are certain to prefer the current system where managers can play one meeting off of another, trying to get their clients the highest possible fees. Managers of the very best athletes can even have an influence over whom their athletes will race. As currently imagined, there will be no limit on the number of meetings in which an athlete can score points, so the $80,000 diamond may simply go to the most consistent athletes who compete often, not those with the most victories or those who put up the very best marks.
The 15 meetings are as follows: Aviva London Grand Prix; Aviva British Grand Prix; Athletissima Lausanne; ExxonMobil Bislett Games, Oslo; DN Galan, Stockholm; Herculis Monaco; Meeting AREVA Paris St-Denis; Memorial Van Damme, Brussels; Prefontaine Classic, Eugene; Reebok Grand Prix, New York; China Golden Grand Prix, Shanghai; Weltklasse Zurich; DKB ISTAF Berlin*; Golden Gala, Rome*; and Qatar Athletics Super Grand Prix, Doha*. Meetings with an asterisk have not been confirmed.
No television deal is yet in place, but the rights will be sold by IMG, the IAAF said.
IAAF president Lamine Diack was pleased with the new Diamond League, especially because it would spread the top competitions to more places outside of Europe. "I used to talk about universality of how our sport can go around the world," Diack said. "We will have all the best meetings of the IAAF Diamond League going around the world: Europe, USA, Asia, China and the Middle East."
For this year, the Golden League goes on, kicking off with the DKB-ISTAF meeting on 14 June in Berlin.