TG4 agrees new broadcasting deal with World Athletics
Deal will bring international meetings to Irish TV for the first time in over 20 years
Ireland’s Phil Healy in action at the Athlone International Athletics Grand Prix last February. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
TG4 has agreed a new broadcasting deal directly with World Athletics which will bring live international meetings onto Irish television this summer for the first time in over 20 years.
In part after the positive feedback from their live coverage of the World Athletics Indoor Tour Final in Madrid in February, which featured several Irish athletes, TG4 has secured coverage all 13 gold level meetings on the 2021 World Athletics Continental Tour, beginning this Sunday with the USATF Grand Prix from Hayward Field in Eugene, the newly renovated venue for the 2022 World Athletics Championships.
Further meetings will include The Ready Steady Tokyo meeting on May 9th, which will serve as an Olympic test event less than 12 weeks before athletics action gets underway at the Olympics, and also the popular Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava (May 19th), the Adidas Boston Games (May 23rd), the FBK Games in Hengelo (June 6th) and the Paavo Nurmi Games in Turku (June 8th).
These meetings also come before the Tokyo Olympics cut-off date of June 29th, and the addition of Irish television has already increased the addition of Irish athletes getting invitations to compete, including Nadia Power (800m), Sarah Lavin (100m hurdles), and Phil Healy (200m) as they look to seal their Tokyo qualification berths before that cut-off.
With the lack of any competitive racing opportunities at home this summer already lamented by Irish athletes, (both the Cork City Sports and the Morton Games in Santry were again postponed until 2022), TG4 coverage of the Continental Tour (Luthchleasaíocht Beo) will also bring live events back on Irish television for the first time since the mid-1990s when, with Sonia O’Sullivan at her peak, RTE showed segments of the then Golden League series.
The World Athletics Continental Tour, where Irishman Pierce O’Callaghan serves as director, was launched in 2020 with the aim of creating a coherent global tour of the best international one-day meets outside of the Diamond League, reaching across every continental area: despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, seven of the original 10 meetings were held last year.
“One of our primary goals at World Athletics is to improve the competitive and earning opportunities for elite athletes around the world,” said World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, “and the Continental Tour is doing that, thrived in its first year, attracting huge support from both athletes and fans, and giving us great confidence that it will go from strength to strength in the coming years.”
Following the Olympics, the tour will resume in September with stops in Chorzów, Poland and the Croatian capital Zagreb before concluding, once again, with the Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi, a meeting which made a successful debut this year.
Though not involved in the broadcasting deal, the decision will likely be welcomed by Athletics Ireland as they look to recover some of the exposure and plummeting membership registration as a direct result of Covid-19’s impact on competition and group-training opportunities.
According to the latest figures made available by Athletics Ireland, overall registration has more than halved in the last 12 months, from 45,306 at the end of February 2020 to 19,702 at the end of February, a drop of 130 per cent.
Some of the counties to experience the most dramatic drop-off in membership include Kerry (down from 1,133 in 2020 to 242 in 2021), Mayo (down from 1,948 to 528), and Laois (down from 869 to just 134), the biggest overall decline being in juvenile membership, which over the last year fell from 24,109 to 8,141, a drop of 196 per cent.
Dublin, which has 44 registered athletics clubs and more than any other county, saw membership decline from 7,546 to 4,678, a drop of 61 per cent in that same period; in some counties such as Carlow registration is down over 500 per cent, their numbers dropping from 472 to just 73.
Interestingly Athletics Ireland female membership (10,118) is now slightly higher than male (9,584), but overall senior membership across the 32 counties has also more than halved over the last 12 months, from 2,761 to 1,361, and while there is considerable hope and expectation these numbers will rebound once full competitions can resume at all levels, it’s still unclear how quickly that might happen.