Michael Pavitt

I am afraid athletics, I can diagnose you with a midlife crisis.

A quick internet search informs me that "drastic changes in habits and impulsive decision making" can be signs and symptoms of a mid-life crisis, along with "disconnecting from old friends and replacing them with younger friends".

Hello Dynamic New Athletics.

"The purpose behind the new format is to appeal to a younger audience between the ages of 15 and 34," we were informed by a press release earlier this week.

As a representative for that age group, I feel confident in saying one of the last things I want to watch is competitive medicine ball running.

Granted it would be pretty funny, but I am not sure that was the intention of European Athletics and the European Olympic Committees when they decided to create the DNA format for the Minsk 2019 European Games.

"DNA has rewired traditional field events," it was also claimed.

Rewired or crossed wires? Or even cross fit.

Cross fit was one of the comparisons drawn to the idea for the assault course format that features "a sled run, shot put toss, standing long jump, water jump, a medicine ball run and a parachute run".

Other suggestions included Ninja Warrior, Total Wipeout and It's a Knockout!

It is madness to suggest that top athletes from across Europe are going to going to compete in this event one year before the Olympic Games. Imagine picking up an injury taking part in this.

Dynamic New Athletics, or DNA, was announced for the European Games this week ©European Athletics
Dynamic New Athletics, or DNA, was announced for the European Games this week ©European Athletics

The competition also feels a damning for the European Games, with European Athletics at best using the multisport event as a testing lab rather than a serious addition to their calendar.

At worst, as has been suggested, it could be viewed as an attempt to ensure the European Games cannot produce a product capable of rivalling their own European Championships.

The effort from European Athletics is not alone in appearing a somewhat desperate effort to attract "new audiences" to the sport.

Earlier this year there was the much derided 100-ball cricket concept from the England and Wales Cricket Board as they attempt to rival T20 cricket. The International Gymnastics Federation have their own midlife crisis induced landgrab of parkour.

I am sure even the ongoing battle between the International Canoe Federation and the International Surfing Association over standup paddle - a candidate for the most ridiculous dispute in sport at the moment - could be filed under an attempt to "gain new fans”.

Sports either have a lack of confidence in themselves or they had too high an opinion of themselves to start with.

A media round table with International Association of Athletics Federations President (IAAF) Sebastian Coe in Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games essentially turned into a 15-minute discussion about how the sport would cope now Usain Bolt had departed the stage.

Bolt has, without question, been the biggest draw to the sport for over a decade and certainly attracted more casual watchers, much like Tiger Woods has, and still does, with golf.

Both athletes have largely drawn the attention of the masses when it came around to major championships and I not think we should pretend that millions of people were tuning in worldwide to watch a Diamond League event unless Bolt was competing. 

Big crowds have turned out to watch athletics in Berlin and officials should have more confidence in the sport ©Getty Images
Big crowds have turned out to watch athletics in Berlin and officials should have more confidence in the sport ©Getty Images

A crowd of more than 60,000 people turned up to watch the European Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin last night, which would have most other sports doing cartwheels down the street.

Has the Championships made an impact outside of Europe? Who knows and frankly who cares, it’s the European Championships and if Europe is lapping it up, great.

There have been grumbles from other sports about how much attention athletics gets at multi-sport events, with suggestions that it has a disproportionally higher billing than say swimming or cycling.

Rather than panicking and coming up with crazy ideas, athletics needs to have more confidence in itself.

Are there changes that can make to improve on what has made it the biggest sport at the Olympics?


The presentation of the sport drastically needs improvement, particularly within stadiums and field events.

I attended the Doha Diamond League in 2015, where for the first time in history two men had produced jumps of over 18 metres mark in the triple jump at the same meet.

Sat on the other side of the stadium, you would not have had a clue it had happened unless you were following online.

Attending the IAAF World Athletics Championships in London last year as a fan, two field events almost came and went before you had realised they had even started.

Ideas like the Berlin Mile appear to be a better way of attracting crowds and promoting the sport ©Getty Images
Ideas like the Berlin Mile appear to be a better way of attracting crowds and promoting the sport ©Getty Images

There have been some good ideas to counteract that. While it will never be a silver bullet, street athletics events have provided something different in recent years.

The "European Mile" in Berlin has, from a distance, appeared to be an extension of this concept with shot put qualifying having taken place in front of a more intimate venue.

I was impressed when I saw the arrival of Dina Asher-Smith for her 100m medal ceremony on television, where it appeared a large crowd had turned up the ceremonies venue in Berlin, with people almost able to reach out and touch the athletes.

Both ideas appear small tinkers to the product athletics already has, but they are noticeable and welcome changes. Ones I suggest would have more impact for viewers than medicine ball running.

If you have good races, like there have been this week, and present it properly then people will watch. 

For all our their faults, the International Swimming Federation do seem to have done a very good job with presentation of their sport in recent years.

Although held under the guise of European Swimming League here, the Tollcross International Swimming Centre at times resembled a light show and pumped out music. Entrances of athletes were greeted by flames and graphics for the crowd.

I wrote recently about the efforts volleyball had gone to show off their sport, with DJs and dances proving just as important as the sport itself.

Will these ideas see swimming and volleyball emerge as challengers to the global dominance of football?

Absolutely not.

Will they attract a more casual fan, particularly someone on the fabled 15 to 34 age bracket?

Quite possibly.

If we are honest, the vast majority of sports have developed a hardcore audience that will continue to follow the sport no matter what.

Sports should back themselves to maintain that following and work out how they can improve on that product. Often the answers are right in front of your face.

The European Championships have enjoyed a successful debut ©Getty Images
The European Championships have enjoyed a successful debut ©Getty Images

For a start, the European Federations have significantly boosted the audience by being part of the European Championships.

It is absolutely clear the event has proved a success over the past two weeks, with the interest having surpassed the sport’s standalone events. One imagines this will be highlighted further when viewing figures are announced.

The concept clearly works and one imagines it will not struggle to find hosts for the coming editions.

There are some questions that the success has raised, namely the future of the standalone Championships.

Given most of the sports host their own annual European Championships, one wonders how this will work going forwards, if one of every four editions seems to have a greater level of prestige than the others.

Will these Championships carry on as they are? Is there potential for the multi-sport European Championships to be arranged every two years possibly instead of every four?

Will the same seven sports feature at the next edition of the Championships?

While there has been some praise for the foursomes team format for golf, the competition has felt largely an irrelevance compared to its older siblings on the progamme.

Dare I say, it feels like the third tier athletics and junior swimming events at the 2015 European Games in Baku, which nobody paid a great deal of attention to.

The idea of having an overall trophy for the "winning" nation also seemed like a good one, especially as organisers looked to create greater ties between the sports featuring on the programme here.

I am not sure anyone has paid a great deal of attention to it though and one suspects it would continue to find a home in either Russia or Britain should they continue to use it.

Overall, the European Championships concept makes sense and it has made a strong debut, despite a few tweaks needing to be made.