(L-R) Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, Allyson Felix of the U.S., Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica and Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya pose during a news conference for the Diamond League athletics meet in Doha, May 10, 2012. (REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous)
By Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF
Doha, Qatar – Speaking on the eve of the Samsung Diamond League meeting here in Doha, Lamine Diack, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations and Chairman of the Board of the Diamond League, declared that the world’s top tier invitational track and field series which held its first meeting in Qatar in 2010 has now fully established itself in the world’s sporting calendar.
“I think that the Diamond League has proved itself now after three years and it opens a special season this year,” Diack told the official press conference ahead of tomorrow’s Doha Samsung Diamond League meeting meeting in the Qatar Sports Club Stadium (11). “2012 is the 100th anniversary of the IAAF and we are very happy to open our celebrations in Doha.”
“During the two past years of meetings there has been good TV coverage, and the sponsors, Samsung have backed it for a third year in a row. Figures for attendances have also been very important. I wish that we will have another excellent year in the Diamond League as we look forward to July, when we hope we will show that we have the No.1 Olympic sport.”
Diack, sitting alongside the QAAF President and Meeting Director Abdullah Al Zaini and the QAAF General Secretary Adel Mohamed Al Baker, paid tribute to the efforts of meeting organisers in assembling a top quality field.
“Doha is opening a season which is at a very difficult period, because athletes are thinking about the Olympic Games which is coming and it has been a great effort to have a good list of entries,” Diack said. “But the quality here is very high and we have many stars here.”
“Doha opens a straight line in a season that leads to the Olympics. We are looking forward to excellent athletics in the Qatar Sports Club tomorrow and we are hoping that for the athletes and the organisers it will be a big success as we start on the march towards the Olympics.”
Al Zaini commented “For this meeting, as the President said, we have had some difficulties in attracting athletes because it is the Olympic season. But we have managed to attract a good field of athletes and stars whom we will be happy to see performing at their best here tomorrow.”
Among those athletes will be Jamaica’s World and Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, who over 100 metres will meet her great rival Allyson Felix of the United States, a three-times World 200m champion herself, while the women’s 3000m field includes Kenya’s double World champion Vivian Cheruyiot and Ethiopia’s former World and Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar.
The men’s 100 metres will feature a strong field including Jamaica’s former World record holder Asafa Powell while double Olympic 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia will take on a field packed with outstanding Kenyan talent over 3000m.
Asked about the recent naming of 17-year-old female sprinter Noor Al Malki in the Qatar team for the London 2012 Olympics, Al Zaini responded:
“Female athletes Al Malky are supported by the Qatar Athletics Federation because women are very important to sport in Qatar and especially in athletics. She is very young and not so experienced so she will not expect to win in London, but she is showing to the people of the world that we are on the right path and encouraging females in sport and not just concentrating on the men in athletics.”
“We have had a women’s training group for five years, and Al Malki is one of the products of that.”
Diack added that he was happy with the Olympic stadium which will form the centrepiece of the London Games. “I have just come from London, where I visited the stadium, which has an 85,000 capacity, and I am satisfied we will have 10 days where athletics fills a big stadium, and we are satisfied that at the end we will have an excellent stadium for athletics in London.”
On the subject of doping, Diack said that he did not favour life bans from competition. “I am convinced that we should not condemn for life,” he said, but added: “We have to make (punishment) severe.”
Asked if he would prefer to see a standard four-year ban rather than the current two-year ruling, he responded: “Yes. But we have to work together. I think we would prefer a four-year ban, but we can’t change it because we have to act as a family in sport. But athletics has no lessons to learn about doping control from anyone.”
Diack’s next port of call, he said, would be Moscow, the venue for the 2013 IAAF World Championships, where he planned to speak to the Russian Minister of Sport about implementing a programme promoting athletics among schoolchildren.
“In sport you have always to look to promote and to improve,” he said. “We understand that we always need to do better because the future of our sport is at stake. That is why school sport is so important.”