The absence of Usain Bolt from the inaugural World Relays, due to start tomorrow in Nassau, has been downplayed by Lamine Diack, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Asked at the pre-event press conference whether he felt the world and Olympic 100 and 200 metres champion had an obligation to promote the sport, Diack responded:
“Certainly when you are in history, you have a role to play.
“It is the role of our top athletes to do this.
“But we have a full stadium – two days.
“We have a lot of athletes who will be competing, very good athletes, competing against each other.
“We can’t focus on the one who is not there.”
Diack described the impending competition as “the latest example of athletics’s continuing evolution.”
He pointed out that in the past 50 years, athletics had seen the transition from amateurism to professionalism – marked by a change from the old name of the International Amateur Athletics Federation – the decline of international dual meetings and corresponding rise of invitational meetings, and the creation of the IAAF World Championships.
Now, he said, the IAAF World Relays were ready to offer a new form of competition.
“You’re always asking when we will introduce new events,” Diack said.
“We looked for new event hosts and the Bahamas was ready.
“We were considering 2015, but the Local Organising Committee (LOC) said they were ready for 2014.”
There is $1.4 million (£830,000/€1 million) in prize money on offer across 10 races, and the top eight teams from each of the 4x100m relays and 4x400m relays at the T.A.R Stadium will earn automatic qualification to the 2015 IAAF World Championships to be held next year in Beijing.
Both nights of competition are sold out.
“We are delighted that the Bahamas have stepped forward to be the inaugural hosts,” Diack said.
“Thanks to the Bahamian Government, and thanks to Nassau.”
LOC chairman Keith Parker said: “I’ve been involved in athletics in the Bahamas for over 50 years, but never anything at this level.
“You will find a fantastic reception, and the stadium will be full.”
LOC vice-deputy chairman Mike Sands expressed his appreciation to the Bahamian Sports Ministry for their support.
“We often say sports and politics don’t mix, but don’t underestimate the value of Government support for this event,” he said.
IAAF general secretary Essar Gabriel, who made several inspection visits in preparation for the event, was similarly positive about the event organisation. “The level of organisation has stepped up from CARIFTA (the Caribbean Free Trade Association) [Games] to world class.
“It has been a spectacular transformation.”
IAAF Council member Pauline Davis-Thompson, who moved up from silver to gold medallist in the Sydney 2000 Olympic 200m after the suspension of original winner Marion Jones, added to comments from Sands and Parker about Bahamas’ relay tradition, saying: “It really started in [Los Angeles]1984 when a Bahamian team first made the Olympic 4x100m final.
“It put the thought in our heads that the Bahamas could win relay medals.
“I think that contributed to the course which led to this event.
“Collectively, all of us who have run relays for the Bahamas, we have done it for our country, and for this moment.”