Postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The World Athletic Championships is the biggest prize in the 11-meet schedule. The “Worlds” are track and field’s (Athletics) biennial Super Bowl and they will fill Hayward from July 15-24. Having the World Games at Hayward Field (rather than in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, or Boston) is testimony to Oregon’s passionate tradition of track and field, including thousands of volunteers, officials and knowledgeable fan base, who are the soul of TrackTown. 

The World Athletic Games are equal parts spectacle and sporting event, and the revenue-generating potential is needed, considering the eighty-million-dollar cost of hosting the games. The local organizing committee responsible for producing the games is Oregon22, headed by the experienced sporting event promoter, Niels de Vos, who was the concluding speaker at the OTC gathering. He spoke candidly about the challenges of hosting the eighty-million-dollar games in a community and stadium considerably smaller than any before. “We’re fitting a size-12 foot into a size-6 shoe,” said de Vos, who knows of what he speaks after a 10-year tenure as Chief Executive of UK Athletics, during which he served as Chief Executive of the Organizing Committees for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, IAAF World Indoor Championships and IAAF World Athletics Championships in London. He was also heavily involved in the 2012 London Olympics, as a Board member of the British Olympic Association.”  

The meet will take place over ten days and sixteen separate sessions, an expansive schedule that distributes competition that might be likened to hosting Bruce Springsteen or Taylor Swift in a series of 10 20-minute shows instead of two big nights.  

Oregon’s greatest patron, Phil Knight, played a huge role in bringing the games here. De Vos shared that when Knight hired him, the Nike founder outlined four main goals:

• Elevate the sport of Track and Field

• Elevate the University of Oregon & Hayward Field

• Elevate the State of Oregon

• Elevate the Athlete Experience at the World Athletics Championships

While there may be differing definitions of what elevate means, words from the Oregon 22 website give a clear indication of what it means to the Oregon22 chief: “Niels is engaged by Oregon 21 LLC to oversee all aspects of the planning and delivery of the 2021 World Championships in Oregon. His role is to ensure that the event is delivered to time and to budget, and that when the eyes of the world turn to Eugene’s Hayward Field in August 2021, Oregon seizes the opportunity to promote itself as a top global visitor destination.” In his words to OTC members, de Vos made it pointedly clear that the world audience of over a billion people for the Games amounts to millions and millions of dollars of advertising for all things Oregon. 

Prestige and name recognition aside, the promoter’s vision of “elevate” includes long-term economic benefits to our community and state after the world gets a taste of Hayward Field and the region surrounding it. Expanding the size-6 shoe means outlying communities from Springfield, Cottage Grove, Creswell, Coburg, Portland and others will experience the presence and social and economic benefits from the event as they house, feed and entertain visitors to the games. Whether long-term economic gains are coming are less the question than what those may look like?  

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Unless you’ve been asleep for the past five years, it has been hard to miss the preparations for the event. From the rise of a new Hayward Field, to a spate of new hotels, shops and restaurants, reminders from promoters, civic and business communities, it has been clear something big is coming! 

This season’s meets at Hayward Field have swollen hotel and other accommodations well before the World Games kick off. Tourism destinations from the Oregon Coast to Eugene’s Saturday Market are likely to see an increase in visitors.

Even before the World Games’ start, thousands of people from all over the world will explore the communities, occupy the hotels, fill the restaurants and train on the trails and athletic facilities of our region. Interactions will happen, and no doubt many will be rich and extraordinary. As for the splendor of anyone hoping to see various styles of global attire, there may be some, but more likely branded athletic sportswear adorning the bodies and feet of most of the athletes will be the norm.

Though not of the scale of hosting an Olympic Games, the aftermath of large sporting spectacles is not always as grand as promised. The legacy of hosting cities has been one of debt and failed expectations, when cities have often allocated vast amounts of money to games in hopes of sound economic returns, but that often is the opposite of what happens. Most associated with bringing the World Games to Hayward do not think this is what will happen. They are counting on Hayward offering a long and positive economic and cultural role in the state.  

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Finally, some words should be written about World Athletics, headed by former Olympic Gold Medalist, Lord Sebastian Coe. Until 2019, the organization was known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and they are the international governing body for the sport of athletics, covering track and field, cross country running, road running, racewalking, mountain running, and ultra-running. World Athletics standardizes rules and regulations, certification of facilities, management of world records, and the organization and sanctioning of athletics competitions, including The World Athletic Championships. 

The organization takes pride in implementing programs that address a broader vision of sport and social responsibility as represented by words found on their website.  

Athletics is the world’s sport – nothing is more simple or universal. This means accepting a global responsibility to use the power and reach of athletics to make a positive difference and support for the world’s only year-round Athlete Refugee Team, providing high-level training and competitive opportunities to athletes who have fled violence, conflict and injustice at home.

Social responsibility is a key element of the World Athletics Strategic Plan and we are ready to activate a worldwide network of Area Associations, Member Federations, local organizing committees, athletes, volunteers, families, sponsors and other public institutions who believe in the values of our sport. Social Responsibility also allows athletics to be seen as more than just ‘another performance-driven sport’ but as something with much more to offer – a true vehicle through which to help build a better world.

When the World Comes and then departs, will we be left with fond memories and an enriched community? Will the arrival of thousands of people from all over the world leave us proud and thankful and herald a new chapter in our community that expands and moves us forward? The words of Hall of Fame baseball player Reggie Jackson come to mind, “You can’t be afraid of striking out when you swing for the fences.”   

Let the games begin!

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