— Published 16 December 2022

“The number of applications has increased by 250%.”

Times are changing in the Olympic movement. The attribution of major international events is less and less a matter of ballot boxes. The IOC is leading the way, and the authorities are abandoning the vote in favor of dialogue. The method is presumed to be more transparent. According to a recent survey by the BCW Sports agency, it is becoming more and more attractive to applicant cities.

World Athletics has followed suit. Its seven world championships, including the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships, are going through a new bidding process. Mark Hurst, in charge of the file at the international federation, explained to FrancsJeux the philosophy and the assets.

FrancsJeux: What is the philosophy behind World Athletics’ selection process of host cities for its major events?

Mark Hurst: Our approach is based on three principles: clarity, consistency and transparency. When we receive applications, we evaluate them according to our strategy and methodology. The philosophy is the same for all our events. But the focus and methodology changes from competition to competition, depending on what we are trying to put forward for a particular event. It’s no longer a one-way process, but a kind of partnership with the applicants.

Do you always go through a vote?

We publish the rules of the bidding process, as approved by the World Athletics Board. Then we have an evaluation panel, consisting of three Board members and two World Athletics employees, including Jakob Larsen, the Director of Competitions and Events. I am the secretary. Candidates are invited to make a presentation to the Board. Once our evaluation is finalized, we make a recommendation to the Board. They can then accept it and award the event, or ask us to review our evaluation.

Since the implementation of this new process, have you seen an increase in the number of applications?

Since the Board approved this new process in January 2021, the number of bids for our seven global events has increased by more than 250%. This is despite the health crisis, inflation and geopolitical uncertainty.

Does this increase affect all your world events?

The most popular is the World Outdoor Championships. We had four bids for the 2025 edition, which was awarded to Tokyo. In terms of global visibility, the event is in the top 5 of the international sports calendar. At the 2022 Worlds in Eugene, Oregon, 45 countries won medals and 81 had at least one athlete in the final. These numbers speak volumes about the value of the event and its appeal to the host city. Another very popular event is the new version of the World Road Championships. For the first edition, next year in Riga, Latvia, we had five bids. We are now launching the call for bids for the 2025 and 2026 editions. In its new formula, it will be a real festival of road running, with the World Half Marathon, 5 km and mile events. With the addition of a mass race, for which Riga 2023 expects between 35,000 and 50,000 runners, the event can be not only very socially engaging, but also economically profitable.

Asia had two bids for the 2025 Worlds, Tokyo and Singapore. Is the Asian continent the most active for bids?

Athletics is a universal sport, World Athletics has the responsibility to ensure the presence of major events around the world. For the year 2022, we had the World Team Walk Championships in Oman, Middle East, the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, then we went to the USA for the World Outdoor Championships in Eugene, and we should have gone to China for the World Half Marathon if the health situation had allowed it.

Are you reducing the requirements imposed on the organizers of world athletics events, as the IOC is currently doing with the Paris 2024 OCOG to reduce costs?

I wouldn’t say that we are reducing the specifications, because then we would run the risk of lowering the standards and consistency of the event at the same time. But we are collaborating more and more with the host cities, particularly on issues of technology, athlete safety and the fight against doping. We are partners with the organizers.

Last month you organized the World Trail and Mountain Running Championships in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Is this proof that cities of all sizes can host a world athletics championship?

The real question is not the size of the city. We try to find the right city, at the right time, for the right event. We awarded the World Cross Country Championships to Bathurst, Australia, and the World Outdoor Championships to Tokyo, two cities that are hardly comparable in terms of size and population. But each host city of a world event has a different objective.

World Rugby has awarded four World Cups this year in one go. Are you in favor of multiple awards?

We did it for the first time last summer when we awarded the World Cross Country Championships in 2024 and 2026 in one go. And we have just launched the call for bids for the World Road Running Championships in 2025 and 2026, with the aim of awarding both editions in one go. Candidates can apply for one of the two editions, or for both at the same time.