Athletics World Cup organisers face a major headache ahead of the event’s inaugural edition in London this summer with several of the sport’s leading names set to stay away.
Sportsmail can reveal that US sprint sensation Christian Coleman and South African star Wayde van Niekerk will miss the team event, which is being staged on July 14-15 at the London Stadium.
There is also uncertainty over the participation of Caster Semenya and Jamaica’s double Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson. Britain’s leading track talent Laura Muir is unlikely to race.
Sprint sensation Christian Coleman unlikely to be in London after suffering hamstring injury
A combination of scheduling conflicts, injuries and gripes over the absence of appearances fees is at the root of the issue. In the case of Van Niekerk it is particularly unfortunate for the organisers, who had quoted an endorsement from the Olympic 400m champion in their promotional release when the event was launched in February.
It was reported earlier this month that he would return from a serious knee injury in July, but his manager Peet van Zyl revealed to Sportsmail on Tuesday that he is highly unlikely to compete again in 2018.
‘Wayde will probably not compete at all this year,’ he said. ‘When he comes back he wants to be ready and that means we are not running anywhere this year now. It will probably be 2019.’
While injuries can be chalked down to bad luck, figures within the sport have privately questioned the timing of what is an exciting concept.
Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk is set to miss the entirety of the 2018 season
It falls just one day after the Friday Diamond League meeting in Rabat, Morocco, and finishes only five days before the Monaco Diamond League, which itself falls a day before the Anniversary Games in the London Stadium on the weekend of July 21-22.
For his part, Coleman, the fastest man in the world in 2017 and World Indoor champion this year, is understood to be planning to run in Paris and Lausanne at the start of July and then at the Anniversary Games.
Athletics World Cup organisers have worked to lessen the squeeze by scheduling certain events for Sunday in consideration of the athletes who will travel to London from Morocco on the Friday, but there is frustration around the camps that the event has been inserted into such a busy portion of the season, with organisers limited in their window of opportunity because of West Ham’s use of the stadium.
Van Niekerk has been working on his recovery since ruptured ligaments last October
There is also consternation about remuneration, with no appearance fees being paid as it is an event in which participation is being determined via selection from each of the eight national federations taking part, unlike invitation-based competitions such as the Diamond League.
In those invitational events, a top athlete will take in five-figure appearance fees – Usain Bolt, the exception to the rule, used to command around £200,000 per appearance – but at the Athletics World Cup, the finances on offer come from the prize pot, which stands in excess of $2million (£1.42m). That will see the winning team of around 45 athletes sharing $450,000 (£320,000, so around £7,110 each) and the eighth-ranked nation sharing $100,000 (£71,000, at £1,577 each).
Organisers point to athletes whose team finishes last pocketing around twice what they would for finishing eighth in the Diamond League, but the consequence is that star names might be thin on the ground for what is a genuinely promising format.
Tickets are expected to sell-out for the two-day event, which will see Britain, the United States, South Africa, Poland, France, China, Germany and Jamaica face off. One male and one female athlete from each nation will compete in all field and track events up to 1500m, with points determining the overall winner.