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StartseiteSportgespräch"No one wants to pay to see someone boring in sports"06.08.2017

DLF-Sportgespräch with Ed Warner"No one wants to pay to see someone boring in sports"

(English Version)

English version of the Deutschlandfunk-Sportgespräch: Interview with Ed Warner, co-chairman of London 2017.

Interview with Ed Warner

Ed Warner, Präsident des britischen Leichtathletikerbandes (British Athletics)
Ed Warner, co-chairman of London 2017 (British Athletics)
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Matthias Friebe: Viewing in the newspapers of the last two years we had many headlines concerning terroristic attacks in London. Which influence did they have on the organization of London 2017?

Ed Warner: We have worked really hard with the police and all the authorities in London and government over the last two years to ensure that this can be as safe an event as possible. We've had a lot of police teams working in our organizing committee, seconded over to them. And we've looked at all sorts of different scenarios. And our message to the fans is: Be aware of potential problems but don't be afraid. Come along and have a great time. And what I will say is the British police are very experienced at dealing with all sorts of situations and all sorts of events not just sporting events but entertainments and public street events. So we're as well-prepared as we can be and all I would say to people - have been saying to people - is: come along and have a good time because it's a good team. It has done some great work behind the scenes. Lots of stuff they do you can't see and that's as it should be because we need to keep our own surprises.

Friebe: How often have you thought: Oh dear, this might become a problem for us?

Warner: Well, whenever there's been a big incident and as you know there has been two or three. And every time that happens we reconvene the team and we think about lessons that we can learn from that. The experts are not working for British Athletics and the organizing committee. The experts are working for the security services, the police, those that advise us. And we lead on their advice. At no point would I try to second guess what they wanted to do because you know they really have that experience and that's all we need to lean on. But as you know it's a global problem. And London is not alone, it's not unique in being under threat. I think we saw some arrests in Australia a few days ago so it does stretch across the globe and we just all need to be vigilant and we all need to work very hard to make sure we're not defeated by terrorism.

Para Athletic World Championship: "It was a great great start to the summer of world athletics"

Friebe: But will we get to see some pictures of [many] policemen and soldiers protecting the spectators and the athletes in the stadium?

Warner: You will, but a lot of it happens invisibly. I don't think that putting [police with] armed police all over the place instantly ensures that things are secure. They can provide some reassurance but most of the security work that we've done and the safety that has been put in place is put in place behind the scenes. You wouldn't see it as a spectator and that's as it should be because there is a lot you can rely on that you just can't see.

Friebe: A few weeks ago, we've had the Para Athletic World Championship in London, the most spectators ever. The first time the tournament took place at the same stadium. It must have been very encouraging for your work for now.

Warner: Oh completely. It was a great great start to the summer of world athletics. We had 330.000 I think it was in the end spectators come through the Para World Championships. Much much more than in any previous edition. We look like we're going to have over 700.000 people here over the course of the ten days of the World Championships. [And] I think the previous high was in Berlin in 2009 with I believe 470.000. So I look back at the Berlin Championships with great affection. It was a fantastic addition. Usain Bolt performed incredibly well there. Broke the world record in 100 metres. The crowds earlier in the week were quite small, by the end of the week the stadium was packed. The pleasing thing here is the stadium is packed from the beginning because Londoners have embraced the Championships. It's a great sport in a great stadium in a big cosmopolitan city and British fans love elite sport and they love elite athletics and that's shown in the ticket sales.

Friebe: What do you have learned from the Para Athletic World Championships.

Warner: Mainly it's logistics. It's a very complex operation. In the Para Championships you had over a thousand athletes. These championships we have over 2000 and that's a lot of hotelbeds. It's a lot of coach transports, it's a lot of transfers from airports. You've got to get the athletes to the start line in the best possible shape and if at the end of the championships they look back and say they had a great time in the stadium and everything went smoothly behind the scenes then you delivered for the athletes. And I think that's the most important thing. If we give the athletes the best platform to perform from then you'll get great sports. So a lot of the learnings we took from the Para Championships were again behind the scenes. They were logistical exercises and this championships we will be more refined as a result of this from things we've been able to tweak and it's all about athlete service because it you provide great service you get great athletics.

"The Para Championships was in its own right a sensational event"

Friebe: So just the warm-up for now?

Warner: What, the Para Championships as a warm-up? No, I don't think so. The Para Championships was in its own right a sensational event and then we will have the same again now with these championships. I am looking out as I speak to you across the warm up track and the facility that we have here to give athletes an opportunity to prepare before going into a great stadium is second to none. It's a great legacy from the London 2012 Games and we're pleased to have it because as you know around the world many athletic stadiums are closing. They're having to give way to football. And here we got a solution which has got football and athletics in the same arena. And I think it's going to make for a great stage.

Friebe: Is it because of the special relationship between the UK and parasports?

Warner: Oh, there is that, undoubtedly. Parasports were born at Stoke Mandeville [Stadium] in the UK and it's been close to the heart of the British public ever since then. 2012 took it to a new level. But the fans that came out last month for the Para World Championships proofed to me that here we embrace diversity. We can celebrate disability as well as having to work very hard to help people overcome it. Now not every disabled person is an elite athlete, of course not. Just as hardly any able bodied people are elite athletes and we shouldn't just look at para-athletes and say we cracked disability as a society. We haven't. But they do provide a wonderful inspiration opportunity for the nation to understand the difficulties that some people have and the struggles they had to overcome those difficulties. And it's important I think that there is a a parasport showcase to enable all people with a disability to have role models and for wider society to recognize that everything something we can all do to make the lives of people with disability better, more rewarding and for them to feel more included.

Friebe: You are the chairman of London 2017. And you told BBC a few days ago you are expecting the last great traditional-format tournament. Why?

Warner: Because there are very few cities around the world that have what you need to bring together a championship of this sort. And that's big audiences and a great stadium. This is a sport that's quite demanding of its scale: 2200 athletes, ten days of championship competition in a big arena. So we will have 700.000 people here. That is really, really big requirements and there are very few cities that can do that. At the same time all traditional sports are being challenged by e-sports and young people are consuming sports in a different way. They want it to be shorter, sharper. They wanted to be engaging through their tablets, through their phones, through their computers. And it may well be that ten days of elite championship athletics is too much for most cities. And maybe if we chopped the competition down just to finals and semi-finals over four or five days, made it if you like an adrenaline rush or a sharp, snappy, aggressive sport and had all the qualification happening away from the main arena in the weeks beforehand, that we'd get a much more valuable competition for many cities. London has that fantastic fan base. It's a big city. It's got an arena which is well located for transport links and a nation that loves sport. But how many more of them are there? I mean Germany, clearly. You can go back to Berlin. Maybe you can go to Paris or Rome. But outside of those big European cities I don't see many opportunities for athletics to hold a competition on this scale in an arena of this size. And so the IAAF is gonna have to adapt the structure of its championships, I think, to make it more saleable and more attractive to young people than it is at the moment. So I'm excited by these championships because they could be the last great championships of this scale and of this structure. And it makes me very proud to be involved in it.

"Doha to me looks as an interesting decision, maybe a slightly strange decision"

Friebe: Do you say this because the next two [World] Championships were given to Doha and Eugene?

Warner: Yeah, partly. Absolutely. I mean I've been to Doha for the Para Athletics World Championships [in 2015] and I don't think you're going to get - well, it is not a big stadium there - but you're not going to get a cramped stadium every session. Particularly given the heat, given the location, given the lack of natural fanbase in Qatar. And Eugene as I understand it, it's going to be a much smaller stadium than it is here in London and Eugene loves its athletics. It's the home of Nike as we know and the fans that are there are really going to embrace what they're seeing in front of them. But it won't be the same scale as London. So the next opportunity is 2023 and I think the IAAF has a big challenge to find a venue in a city that can do the same thing as London. Maybe 2023 is that first opportunity to do something different.

Friebe: So the IAAF has made some mistakes by assigning the tournaments to Doha and Eugene?

Warner: I don't think Eugene because it's important that they crack America. And as you know they are...

Friebe: .. but it's not LA or New York or Washington...

Warner: Exactly, exactly. And it's possible the Olympics in 2028 gives a chance to crack America on a bigger scale. But I think it needs to get to America, I understand why that's the case. Doha to me looks as an interesting decision, maybe a slightly strange decision and it could feel a little bit flat to take the championships there after London. So I hope that's not the case because I love this sport but I think there's a lot of work to be done to ensure that the Championships in two years time have the same feeling of significance and importance [that some] that we're going to have here and are having here in London this week.

Friebe: When you talk about full arenas, about cities and venues like London you are talking about encouraging and engaging athletes. Why is it so important for athletics?

Warner: Because for me great sport, a great sporting occasion is made by the combination of top class sports people in front of a vibrant, excited, engaged crowd. You could [you could] perform brilliantly in front of nobody and it will feel flat. You could be a poor sports person performing in front of a big crowd at the crowd will go away feeling flat. But if you put the combination together of a great big crowd, engaged crowd with great sport then that's an exhilarating event. That's something people remember. And the best athletes give their best when they've got a crowd to perform in front of. We saw that with the Para World Championships - the contrast between the Championships in London and previous editions was huge. That was less about what happened on the track. It was more about what you had in the stands, in the stadium. So I think [I think] the best sports people deserve the best venues and the best crowds. And that's not just in athletics, the same would be true for swimming, cycling, football, rugby, you name it. You need that combination of people watching as well as people performing. So for me if you had great sport in front of a half empty stadium that's a huge disappointment and you have let the athletes down.

"Evolution is the key"

Friebe: I was a little surprised that you told something about e-sports maybe a challenge for the classic and traditional sports. Is it quite a big thing in the UK?

Warner: Absolutely massive and globally, particularly in Asia, also in America. So the biggest [the biggest] prize funds for a single e-sports event worldwide, it is called "The International", and it's something - I'm going to get the numbers slightly wrong, but it's something like 25, 27 million dollars prize fund for an e-sports event. You are having arenas now with tens of thousands of fans watching people play e-sports. The fan engagement is incredible. Now as an old man at 53 years old as I am I struggle sometimes to understand it but I absolutely respect and watch with great interest the growth of e-sports. And I think they are here to stay and they really are a challenge to traditional sports that are looking to engage young people. We have to adapt, to embrace technology in such a way that people that engage with e-sports also want to engage with athletics. And the same would be true for any other traditional sport.

Friebe: So the traditional sports are talking about changes, new formats, new events. Is the traditional, the classic track and field boring?

Warner: It's not boring for me and it's not boring for 700.000 people here this week and hundreds of millions watching on television. But it doesn't mean it can't get better and you have to evolve. Evolution is the key. Some sports might need revolution. Athletics doesn't need that but it absolutely needs to evolve and it mustn't be slow to do that. It's got to evolve at a pace which keeps it ahead of the interests of young people. If it doesn't do that it's gone and we can't afford to take that risk. And I hope that a traditional sport doesn't approach these things in a traditional way because we would than miss opportunities.

Friebe: But in what way might it happen?

Warner: I just think you need to, you need fresh minds, fresh thinking to look at the formats of events, look at the time table of events and.

"People need to feel like they're part of the action"

Friebe: More events?

Warner: There may be different events, there maybe mixed relays, mixed gender relays, I mean mixed distance relays. But for me a lot of it is going to be down to the shortness of competition. You need short competition that is sharp. And there's lots of different ways we can use technology to showcase the event. So for example could you have a pinpoint camera in the vest of athletes running a distance race so that you had imagery that you felt as as a watching person you were in the middle of the pack. If you think of virtual reality headsets which are you know coming very quickly to arenas in many sports in America and will soon be doing that over the world. Then how will athletics use virtual reality so that people watching through their tablets, through their phones can feel like they're actually part of the competition. Because that's what's happening in many sports and it has to happen here. So I think technology has a big part to play. Broadcasters have a big part to play and the format of the sport needs to become shorter and sharper. And it will happen but I hope it happens quickly enough that it remains relevant.

Friebe: So the fun of the spectators is a big point?

Warner: Completely. Yeah, completely. No one wants to do this to be bored. No one wants to do this to be a statistican. People need to feel like they're part of the action. And look the great thing about athletics: it's running, it's jumping, it's throwing. We all can do those things. We can imagine what it might be like to run the hundred meters in ten seconds. I can run, I can't run that quickly but I watch someone running I know what the mechanics of running are about from just being someone who can run, I can relate to that event. I can relate to throwing. I can relate to jump even though I can't do it anywhere near as best as the best athletes. That's one of the the most appealing aspects of athletics. Anyone watching can relate to it in a way you can't maybe as easily with American football, just as a brief example, or cricket. I can't necessarily imagine what it's like to be a quarterback. I can imagine what it's like to throw a shot put. So we have to take that. And we have to make sure that the fans feel really a part of the action. Maybe the answer for athletics is more indoor athletics for example where an indoor arena is much more immediate. It's easy to light, it's easy to broadcast, it's easier to feel part of the action. Maybe we need to think about the scale of arenas, maybe a 400 meter track is the wrong size. Maybe it's 250 meter track or a 300 meter track is a better scale so for the audience to engage with the sport. But we need to look at all sorts of things. Could you have events in which there are spectators sitting inside the track watching the event? All these things need to be looked at.

"Thomas Röhler entertains me"

Friebe: Does that mean [we have] to say farewell to traditional events?

Warner: Possibly. I hope not. But as you know the hammer for example only seems to come out now in major championships. In between times, the Diamond League for example doesn't have the hammer because it's a time consuming, physically, large scale event. But maybe we need to do that. Maybe we need to break the sport so that there are throws competitions in exciting, different venues and focus much more on track within smaller arenas. I mean all these things need to be looked at. We need to step back from it and get bright minds working at bright solutions not being tied to a traditional way. Because if that's the case we will never make the leap which is required for us to be relevant for the next generation.

Friebe: Let's take an example, Ed: Decathlon. Do you share the opinion that we will see the last word championship decathlon in London?

Warner: I don't think so. I think you will see it in Doha at Eugene, but will you see it in 2023? Maybe, I'm not so sure. I mean, I think it's a great storybook event but it takes up a huge amount of the timetable. And we know that heptathlon and decathlon in Götzis every year, the Hypo event, is a huge success. Maybe the sport is to make much more of that. Maybe it [...] out of traditional championships. I'm not sure, but that's one thing that people should put on the table. There should be no sacred cows as we say in England. Nothing is off the table, until everything's being looked at. That's the way the sport needs to examine itself.

Friebe: Thomas Röhler, the German javelin Olympic champion sees his role as a double one: Olympic champion on the one hand and on the other hand object of entertainment. Is that the key for the future: entertainment and athletes as objects of entertainment?

Warner: One hundred percent. And Thomas Röhler entertains me, seeing him throw the javelin 90 plus metres is a sensational thing. I love watching him. And yeah, absolutely. You look at Germany actually in the throws events has had some absolute stars of entertainment in recent years and that's what Germany tends to bring to major championships and I always look forward to seeing the throws of Germans in competition because they know what it's about. And you know Usain Bolt has brought that to sprinting. Others bring it to other aspects of the sport. I think of Valerie Adams in the shot put. She's pregnant now so not competing here in London. But when she steps into the shot put circle she's mesmerizing. Her scale, how far she throws. She draws the crowd in, her celebrations are joy. She looks like a petite, emotional woman when she wins and yet she's an absolute sort of Colossus of her sport and an incredible imposing physical presence and that's just a wonderful combination. And she entertains, you're right. Thomas Röhler is right. If you can't entertain why be there? No one wants to pay to see someone boring in sports. No one wants to pay to see a football team that's boring. You want to pay for a football team that is going to entertain you. It might score goals, it might let in goals. But you see emotions on the faces of the eleven players on your team on the pitch. And you need to see emotion on the faces of athletes. You need to see it matter and there are some athletes that are better at that than others and Röhler is one of the ones who is great at it.

Usain Bolt is a "one of"

Friebe: Because you named him: Usain Bolt will say farewell to athletics in London 2017. How important for your sports was he?

Warner: Massive. Massively important. He's a "one of". He's like Ayrton Senna in Formula One. He's like Muhammad Ali in boxing. They're very, very hard superstars to replace - and the word superstar is used too often. He's a genuine superstar. He's brought joy to people for a decade and he's bought me a lot of joy watching him. He's bought hundreds of millions of people around the world joy. He's, he's unique. And we can't replace him with any one individual but the sport will keep regenerating itself, it will keep bringing on new talents. And well there is Wayde van Niekerk in the 200 and 400 metres from South Africa, Andre De Grasse not here this week injured but his time will come again, the Canadian sprinter. There will be others but will any of them quite have his charisma? No. But has any boxer had the charisma of Ali since he left the stage? No. So, you know, we have to live without Bolt but he's been hugely helpful for us through periods of crisis and doping scandals and the Russians being banned. And he's bought a bounce to the sport which has been really needed.

Friebe: Massive impact without any doubts?

Warner: Massive impact, massive impact. Absolutely. No doubt at all.

Friebe: No doubts?

Warner: No doubt.

Friebe: Okay. You struggled, I read, to get sponsors you need for the word championships. It is because of the problems we discussed about entertainment?

Warner: It's doping, doping for me. Sports' commercial partners have struggled at times to want to engage with the sport because of the doping scandals that have surrounded that. And that's not just London 2017. The IAAF, the international federation, has just had the same problems. If you look at the roster of commercial partners it's not very long. It hasn't changed much in recent years. Apart from changing from Adidas to Asics for apparel it's not really made any changes. And I think the commercials team at the IAF has really faced significant challenges. And we've seen that too in London 2017 now. For us the events is beating its budget, but its beating its budget because we sold lots of tickets. And thats the success for us financially has been people wanting to come to see it. It's not bringing in a lot of commercial partners. We brought some in, we would have liked more but it's been hard work to persuade people that this is a sport that they want to put their brand name on because of all that's gone on with Russia.

"Doping agencies need more money"

Friebe: The Russiann doping scandal [has been] one of the big topics in the last years. Athletics on a global level hasn't recovered yet from that?

Warner:  No it hasn't. The Russians are back, there are 19 of them here this week competing on neutral.

Friebe: The right decision?

Warner: Yes, it is. I am convinced that those that have been testing those 19 athletes have done a good job. So it is the right decision. But for me if one of those Russians wins a gold medal and stands on the podium and hears the IAAF anthem rather than the Russian national anthem that's almost the biggest punishment Russia could have. So in a way it's the right decision because Russia is forced to confront itself that its athletes are here, some of them. But they're not allowed to celebrate their Russianism. And I hope Russia comes back. But it has to come back clean. It's proving slow because they seem to be in denial.

Friebe: Are there globally enough efforts to cover up with these doping things?

Warner: There's not enough money. If you look at the budget of WADA, if you look at the budget of anti doping agencies around the world, they need more money. The more money you have the more testers you can have, the more policemen you can employ to investigate allegations of doping and corruption. And we need more resources. The IOC does not give enough money to WADA, it needs to get more. National governments need to give more. International federations like FIFA, the IAAF need to give more. WADA needs to be a much bigger scale organization. So they make great efforts but they need a bigger scale.

Friebe: When we talk about doping, Ed, we have to deal more and more with changes in the results because of the disqualification of athletes years after the tournaments. In London you will go for a new way. There will be a special ceremony for athletes who now get new members. Is this the right way?

Warner: Yes, absolutely. I think that the biggest sadness for me when an athlete doesn't win a medal they should have won because of doping and it's found out a year or two or five years later is: they lose that moment in front of the crowd to be celebrated. And we had to give them that moment back. In the past medals arrived in the post: Here's your medal. Congratulations. Well this way we have a chance for fans to say congratulations. And it reminds everybody of the doping problem. Maybe that's not a great thing. But we can't hide from that problem. And so I would rather see an athlete stand up and if they win a gold medal hear their national anthem. It's only the right thing for me.

"I think a medal table is fun. People like it"

Friebe: Can you bring the moments back years after?

Warner: Of course you can't, no. No. You'll never get the same moment back but you got a moment. It's a better moment than opening the post and finding a gold medal in it. You got a chance here to step up in front of 60.000 people and for them to applaud you. And it will never bring the moment back but it's better than no moment at all.

Friebe: At the beginning of our interview you told something about the great legacy of London 2012. In a report of Mail on Sunday last week we read London 2012 were the dirtiest games ever. Will the legacy of the Olympic Games gets severely damaged?

Warner: No I think.. yes, I mean the memory of 2012 is not as bright as it would have been without the doping being unveiled. But that's the challenge this sport has and other sports too. We were at a moment at as it turns out in which the dopers were beating the testers and we had to get to a situation in which the testers stopped to beat the dopers. And it's a battle, it's an arms race between the two.

Friebe: Ed, one topic more at the end of our interview, it is about medals, too. When London 2017 will be over we will have the view on the medals table and see which country was the best. In terms of doping, isn't that something to abolish?

Warner: No, I think a medal table is fun. People like it. They talk about it. You know, they beat up coaches when medals aren't won. They get national pride with medals won. I think something about athletics is when a national's best is important, much more than a Diamond League meeting where people are competing just in their own kit.

" I worry that sometimes all sports don't always pursue medal success in the most ethical way"

Friebe: But you are not the biggest fan of counting medals.

Warner: I'm not the biggest fan of counting medals but it still... what I don't think you should do is say that as an individual head coach or a sport is failing or succeeding purely on medals. But you have to look at the medals but you need to make a judgment in the round. Is the sport moving forwards? Is a team doing its best? Is it getting the best out of the resources it has? Is it giving everybody a chance to compete on the team? It needs to do all those things and it needs to win medals. And you have to count medals but you shouldn't make all your decisions purely based on medals. That's a mistake. Some people use just this one yardstick and I think you need a number of measures and... but you can't stop a fan counting medals. If you didn't publish the medal table, people would count it up for themselves. So you can't hide from it, it's there and it's a sport in which people compete for their country. That's one of its joys. You get picked to compete for your country, for Germany, for Britain, for America, whatever it might be. And you shouldn't take that away.

Friebe: You say this I think because of the big discussions in the UK about the welfare of athletes, especially of young athletes. Do you think that might match, welfare and medals, welfare of athletes and pressure to perform?

Warner: It is a problem here and it's probably a problem in a number of countries. And I worry that sometimes all sports don't always pursue medal success in the most ethical way. And we need to ensure that we look after athletes all the way through and after they have retired, too. We can't just treat them as commodities - they're not commodities, they're human beings. And they deserve care, attention and all the right treatments that you would expect in any walk of life. They're different because they're athletes because what they do is so measurable and so public. But they're not different in any other way. And we need to respect that at all times.

Friebe: To conclude this: [do] you need a special welfare program to provide against abuse and has this to be a big part of every sports funding system?

Warner: Yes, it should be. I think that's absolutely right. And UK Sport, the funding authority here, is waking up to that. And it's doing increasing amounts for that to be the case. But it should be a part of what British Athletics does, what the German Athletics Federation does, what international federations do. Definitely.

 

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