By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) – As athletics turns its attention to 2019, competitions in stadiums and indoor arenas will not be the only talking points.
Street meets, competitions in city centres and nearby areas emphasising sprints and field events, are growing in popularity in the United States and Europe.
Already a common practice at some Diamond League meetings, street meets will be introduced to IAAF events where and when there is the right venue, the International Association of Athletics Federations said in a statement to Reuters.
“There is currently a working group looking at the possibility of creating a street athletics circuit,” athletics’ global governing body added.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe has led the call for the development of innovations that will bring new fans to the sport. Street meets may be one answer.
“Extensive consultation has indicated a strong appetite for an urban athletics circuit or an increase in urban athletics competitions,” the IAAF statement said.
That increase is already underway in the United States with the American Track League (ATL) expanding its offerings of high entertainment, up-close competitions to street meets next year in Atlanta (July 2-3), Greenville, South Carolina (July 6), Charlotte, North Carolina (July 13) and Omaha, Nebraska (Aug 1).
“Street meets are great for promoting the sport and featuring events that get lost in the stadium,” said ATL founder Paul Doyle, who is working with the IAAF group.
The popular Boost Boston Games, which this year featured middle distance races in a stadium and sprint events on a straightaway track constructed on downtown Charles Street, will also be back with world-class fields and a preliminary date of June 16.
“It’s the best way to reach people who have never been to a track meet, especially kids,” said organiser Mark Wetmore.
“When you see these athletes up close and see how fast they move, it really is something,” he added.
Street competitions are also growing in Europe, especially in the sprints, jumps and sometimes the shot put.
“All taking place as good additions to usual track programmes, not replacing them,” Euromeetings president Alfons Juck told Reuters.
However, even Doyle does not think track and field should become exclusively street competitions.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “The stadium meets still need to exist. But I think these street events are great ways to promote the sport and promote different events within the sport.”
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)