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Athletics in the spotlight - why there is a lack of successful facilities which we nevertheless need

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© Alexandra / stock.adobe.com

"Faster, higher, further" – in athletics the natural and essential motion sequences of running, throwing and jumping familiar for millennia are elevated into defined sporting sequences. In Ancient Greece, many disciplines were already part of the Olympic Games, and today a host of medal winners and world record holders remain among the most famous faces of international sport. The rules of athletics competitions are often easy to understand, which is why non-sports fans are also quickly able to follow a competition at a major event and indeed do so in large numbers.  The basics of athletics - speed, endurance and jumping and throwing power - are also essential when practising many other sports, which is why they are often an integral part of training programmes. 

However, in order to one day compete in the above-mentioned major events - the Olympic Games and World and European Championships, or even the German Championships -, appropriate, good quality training facilities are required. Like many other sports, athletics is also experiencing a dearth of up-and-coming talent. In addition to demographic change, the plethora of doping scandals, a lesser focus on smaller competitions and the increasing popularity of informal sports, the causes also include the scarcity of suitable, modern sports facilities for practice. Many sports facilities have clearly seen better days, the sports equipment is outdated, or the opportunities for pursuing athletics were somewhat or completely disregarded during the last renovation. This latter factor can be seen in arenas large and small. 

 

A large stadium with an athletics track in Germany - from standard to a rarity

As recently as the 1970s and 1980s athletics commanded a great deal more attention in Germany. German athletes enjoyed international success, the Olympics in Munich had just been staged, and the major doping scandals had not yet been unearthed. The venues for (West) German athletics championships in the 1980s represent a roll call of the largest stadia in the country - in Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Hannover and Düsseldorf. All major arenas which naturally are best known for football but which were also used to host athletics events. Today there is no longer an athletics track in any of these stadiums, with the German Championships being staged in recent years in smaller cities such as Ulm, Kassel, Erfurt and Braunschweig. While the stadia in these cities are certainly not poor venues for competitions, they are simply not among the country's largest arenas. Only in Nuremberg and Berlin are there still major stadia with over 40,00 seats in which athletics competitions can be staged. Although even in Berlin, where - in the opinion of many athletes - one of the world's best athletics tracks was built in the Olympic Stadium, the future of athletics is uncertain. This is the track on which in 2009 the Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt set the world 100 metres record - the world record of all world records - which still stands today. In many cases, the reason for the rebuilding projects to the disadvantage of athletics is football. As in other countries, fans want to be closer to the action, which means a track is considered an obstacle. And since football regularly fills stadia - something that athletics is no longer able to achieve - the wish of fans in many places has been fulfilled. Either the stadium is converted, or a new football arena is built and the old stadium demolished. But it doesn't have to be this way. In the French national stadium in Paris St. Denis the lower stands are retractable and can be rolled over the athletics track for football matches. This means both football and athletics competitions can be staged with optimal conditions for spectators. It is a prime example for maintaining the interest level of spectators. Because if competitions continue to only be staged in small stadia in Germany, the result will be a decline in the public interest and, automatically, fewer spectators will be attracted. It's a vicious circle.


Athletics facilities are also disappearing in small sports venues

The number of athletics facilities is also declining in the public sphere. As the wishes of spectators are not so relevant here, the reasons are to be found elsewhere. In sports facility planning, it was once common practice to automatically provide many football stadia with an athletics track when they were built. And it certainly helped that it was very easy to build a 400-m track around a standard football pitch measuring 105 x 68 m. While simple athletics tracks were once built from cinder, in the 1970s an increasing number of modern synthetic tracks were laid.  In recent years the conversion of many football pitches into artificial turf playing areas has resulted in even more conflicts with athletics. Not just for the reason that a running track was frequently omitted for cost reasons but because throwing disciplines such as javelin and hammer-throwing destroy the artificial turf and can no longer be practised. Replacement areas for these disciplines must be planned and built and need to comply with more rigorous safety requirements. It is not just sports clubs that are suffering as a result of the loss of many athletics facilities, but also schools, which often also use such sports facilities for physical education. In order to go at least some way towards meeting their needs, simple 100-metre running tracks are often built - and for cost reasons, these are often again made from cinder.

Athletics facilities are important for encouraging people to exercise and create added value for many athletes

While the reasons for the loss of many larger athletics facilities are understandable, this does not mean that many more facilities should disappear. In Germany's sports clubs around 800,000 athletes pursue athletics disciplines. In physical education and in many other sports the fundamentals of athletics are important for the athletic development of the individual In no other sport can athletes choose their preferred way of pursuing sport from so many disciplines based on their own preference and skills. In addition, modern athletics facilities today do not just offer an effective and pleasant way of pursuing sport - they can also be equipped with technical features which enable, for example, automatic timekeeping. With absolutely no need for an additional stopwatch.

A modern athletics facility doesn't always need to have eight lanes - it often suffices to have four. In many places, it has been shown that sports facilities provided that they are accessible are used not only by sports clubs but also by individual athletes. Individual solutions can be found for sandpits and throwing areas. In future, multi-purpose sports facilities will increasingly be a solution in densely-populated inner cities in particular. And an athletics track doesn't always have to surround a football pitch; here again - although unfortunately still all too seldom - there are definitely alternatives.

In Gina Lückenkemper, Malaika Mihambo, Niklas Kaul and Johannes Vetter, German athletics has succeeded in nurturing several young and successful talents whose achievements undoubtedly serve as an example to many children and young people. And by extending and preserving existing opportunities to pursue sport, we will undoubtedly generate greater interest and achieve growth in the number of sports enthusiasts. And this not only improves people's health and the level of physical activity they engage in but may also result in athletics again being staged in major stadia in the future. 

 

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