Time changes considered

The governing body of athletics is considering a schedule change for all major competitions – including the 2008 Olympics – to make them more attractive to television coverage, a top official said yesterday. During a meeting in Athens, about 70 international broadcasters suggested the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF, shorten the current four-hour-long competition sessions held in the evenings. The sessions would last two-and-a-half hours, while all preliminaries would be pushed up to the morning hours which generally have a smaller audience. «Of course, this will be considered by the IAAF,» IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai said. «It’s not a very quick decision.» The federation earns a significant portion, or 80 percent, of its revenues from TV contracts. Gyulai said officials will also have to discuss the change with athletes, sponsors and others involved in the competitions. Although «a lot of consultation needs to be taken before we can come to a decision,» the new timetable could be made at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, and the Beijing Olympics the following year. «I cannot predict the decision,» Gyulai said. «We are discussing… We are reflecting.» The IAAF, facing increasing competition for television spectators, plans to make the sport more attractive to the casual viewer by staging finals only in the evening sessions of major events. Figures released during the meeting showed that 80 percent of television time is devoted to soccer and 7 percent to motor sports. Athletics is just one of the other major sports competing for the remaining 20 percent. David Neal, executive vice president for the US network NBC, the official broadcasters for this year’s Athens Olympics, told the meeting that television coverage needed to evolve. Neal said triple Olympic champion Marion Jones would not be recognized on the street in the United States. «American viewers have a very short attention span,» he said. «For the casual viewer, aged from 18 to 34, it’s important to tell stories and engage the audience.» IAAF Vice President Lou Dapeng from China, who will play a leading role in the Beijing schedule, said there was a close bond between soccer spectators and the players. «In our sport, they come and watch but they don’t understand,» he said. «They lack the emotion. You must put in the emotions that connect the athletes and the public.» The meeting’s chairman, Alex Gilady, chairman of the IAAF television commission and a member of the International Olympic Committee, said the challenge was to compress an evening program into two-and-a-half hours of prime-time television. He also raised the possibility of athletes having the same competition number for the duration of their career in order to be more easily identified. «Athletes will have the same number for all competitions for all their lives to make them stars,» he said. Gyulai, IAAF’s general secretary, said he thought a better idea would be to have athletes’ names rather than their numbers on the vests. «That’s a totally new idea,» he said. «The solution is the names on the bib.» (AP, Reuters)

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