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In an unusual move, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) awarded Eugene, Oregon, the 2021 IAAF World Championships in Athletics in a special vote on the second day of their Council Meeting in Beijing, bypassing the usual bidding process. The championships, which will take place at historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, will be the first ever held in the United States.
United States Track & Field had previously bid for the 2019 championships, but was defeated by Doha, Qatar (Barcelona, Spain, was also a bidder).
IAAF officials said in a statement that awarding Eugene the 2021 championships in a summary fashion was justified because of “a unique strategic opportunity” to host the World Championships for the first time in the United States. This had been a long-held goal of outgoing IAAF President Lamine Diack.
“In granting the championships to Eugene the IAAF Council have made a clear choice on a strategic decision that enables us to take advantage of a unique opportunity that may never arise again, whereby public authorities, the private sector, the national Olympic Committee, (broadcaster) NBC and a particularly enthusiastic public are joining forces,” Diack said through a media release. “Although this decision departs from the usual procedure, I am delighted that my Council colleagues understood the enormous opportunity presented to us to access a key market and have taken a decision in the interest of the global development of our sport.”
As expected, the decision was applauded by USATF officials.
“We are deeply honored to be given the opportunity to host the world’s greatest track and field athletes on U.S. soil,” said USATF chief executive officer Max Siegel through a statement. “We thank President Diack and the IAAF Council for entrusting this meet to the United States. Team USA has established itself as the most successful track and field team in the world. We now have the opportunity and duty to rise to the same level as hosts of these championships.”
Hayward Field’s pedigree as a venue for track meets with enthusiastic and knowledgeable fans is not in question. The stadium hosted the 2012 USA Olympic Trials, the most important athletics competition in the United States, and will host the 2016 Trials and the 2015 national championships. The Prefontaine Classic, the IAAF Diamond League Meeting, is held every year in Eugene, and the NCAA Championships are often held in Eugene (they will take place there this year).
Nonetheless, the IAAF decision is likely to be controversial. Hayward Field’s seating capacity is much smaller than the usual mega-stadiums used for world championships. According to Wikipedia, the regular capacity of the stadium is just 10,500 but is expandable to 21,000. The facility would be expanded further to host the world championships, but would still be much smaller than a stadium like National Stadium in Beijing (widely known as the Bird’s Nest), which was used for the 2008 Olympic Games and will be used for this summer’s IAAF World Championships in Athletics. The Bird’s Nest has a capacity of 80,000.
Moreover, Eugene is a small city by global standards with a population of about 160,000. Spencer Nel –the head of global sports marketing in the running and athletics category for adidas, who was opposed to Eugene’s 2019 bid– poked fun at Eugene’s selection via Twitter.
“Can my village also bid for world champs?” Nel tweeted shortly after the decision was announced. “We have a 6 lane track and a 3000 seater stadium. Bidding not needed anymore I see.”
Vin Lananna, a tireless Eugene booster who led the successful bid to host the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon, in 2016, was decidedly more upbeat.
“In hosting this meet at historic Hayward Field, on the beautiful University of Oregon campus, we believe we can ignite a spark that will leave a lasting legacy for track and field for generations to come,” Lananna said through a statement from Beijing.
The exact dates of the 2021 IAAF World Championships in Athletics were not released, but the championships are usually held in August. Eugene is warm and dry at that time of year.