This weekend will see the first rendition of the “Continental Cup”, which is simply a reworked version of the “World Cup”. At the time of it’s inception in 1977, the World Cup was a welcome sight on the track and field scene. After all, we only had one real championship of any kind on a global level – that being the quadrennial Olympic Games. And with only one championships every four years, the track and field community was starving for something that could be called a “Championship”. So the World Cup was the first institution to fill that void.
At the time the concept/format made sense. There were basically two super powers in the sport – the United States, the Soviet Union – with East Germany and West Germany dominating everyone else. So taking these as individual teams and combining the rest of the world into continental units made for a fairly well balanced competition. And with the Cold War still at it’s peak, the tensions between “East and West” were brought to sport – which meant that anything that had the word “Championship” attached to it was taken very seriously! As a result the first set of meets were well attended by all of the world’s top athletes and hotly contested.
But then the sport added another “Olympics” type competition – the World Championships. Because it followed a true championships format with more competitors, rounds, etc, the World Championships immediately became “THE” track and field championships not called the Olympic Games – relegating the World Cup to the meet in between. But as the World Championships grew in stature, and another was added every other year – creating the current three championships cycle every four years – the World Cup has almost become an afterthought. By the end of the ‘90s most of the world’s elite athlete’s began to skip the meet altogether or in some cases just run on relay squads.
That has lead to the retooled meet that will take place this weekend – a grouping of four continental squads that will be a combination of primarily second tier athletes mixed with a handful of top shelf athletes. With the meet having to adjust in this fashion, it tells me that the concept has run its course and what the sport really needs is to fill that “off season” with another World Championships so that the sport has yearly champions like every other major sport. Especially when I see that the sport will be spending $3 million in prize money on this meet – money that would be better spent on a real championships that would gain the sport more exposure and notoriety.
At this point in it’s development, what the sport needs is as much exposure as it can get. And right now that’s not happening in the “off seasons”. While I appreciate the attempt made by the Diamond League to do that, it just didn’t come through on several levels (I’ll be discussing my evaluation of the Diamond League next week). This sport can ill afford to throw away an entire season every four years. We need the excitement that a Championship meets brings to the table – because it’s the one and only thing that seems to be able to get all of our top athletes to the track!
The Continental Cup will take place this weekend, and I will be following every event. But for all but us true die hard fans of the sport the competition will be meaningless as the first weekend of College Football will take center stage. Without any champions being crowned, the most that we can hope for is the always iffy setting of a World Record to show for the $3 million plus that will be spent on this weekend’s competition. Not a very strong return on the dollar – and definitely not on the Euro. So rather than restructuring this meet we should be looking at adding that third World’s in the four year cycle. As well at looking at how we can make some changes to make that meet better. Because that’s really what the sport needs if we want more visibility and recognition within the sporting community.