The Covid-19 pandemic has sent the athletics world into a successful reinvention of the sport thanks to virtual races.
Organisers of last night’s Impossible Games in Nairobi and Oslo summoned new technologies to keep the oomph and excitement of track races.
Barnaba Korir, who was the meet director, said the event is a testimony that sports is heading to another level.
“Due to Covid-19 pandemic, we will always not allow spectators into the stadium. But we are taking the sport right into their living rooms through the screen as we adopt the new normal. That’s why we opted to have split screens.
“The sport is taking a new dimension in terms of technology. And remember athletics is slowly but surely turning into a team sport like Formula One, rugby and others. It is no longer an individual sports. I don’t know how mass events will survive.
“With the Impossible Games, we have found the best way to engage athletes and ensure they train as they prepare for the future,” said Korir.
Kenyan stars in world 1500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot, 2017 world 1500m Elijah Manangoi, 2012 world junior 1500m silver medalist Edwin Melly, Africa junior 1500m champion Vincent Keter and Timothy Sein were in action at Nyayo Stadium against Norwegian brothers in Filip, Henrik and Jakob in Oslo last night.
The unique race dubbed ‘Impossible Games’ replaced Oslo Diamond League which was cancelled due to coronavirus crisis.
“The world over, offices are conducting meetings virtually and its becoming normal to meet via mediums such as zoom and other platforms. Sometimes one needs creativity to survive and that’s what is happening now with athletics stars of virtual races. I see it becoming common in near future,” said Bernard Ouma, athletics middle distance coach.
Cheruiyot, who led the Kenyan team has called for more virtual races: “Many sportsmen and women are idle and they depend on sports to earn a living. As long as the sports organisers can observe social distance, this innovation in sports should be encouraged as we wait for normalcy.”
World marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge also participated in 10.5km virtual road race last weekend.
The event dubbed ‘MA RA TH ON’ was organised by Dutch’s NN Running team and Maurten. Each athlete covered 10.5 kilometres during the virtual team relay ran in groups of four.
Athletes under NN Running team that include Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, Dutch’s Abdi Negeye participated in the event.
According to United Nations, the global value of the sports industry is estima-ted at US$756 billion annually.
In the face of Covid-19, many millions of jobs are therefore at risk globally, not only for sports professionals but also for those in related retail and sporting services industries connected with leagues and events, which include travel, tourism, infrastructure, transportation, catering and media broadcasting, among others.
Professional athletes are also under pressure to reschedule their training, while trying to stay fit at home, and they risk losing professional sponsors who may not support them as initially agreed.