After Rome Surprisingly Drops Bid, Beijing Awarded 2027 World Athletics Championships

The only other bidder suddenly dropped out on the eve of selection, leaving China as the only option

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Beijing, China, has been chosen as the host city for the 2027 World Athletics Championships, as announced by the World Athletics Council during its meeting in Glasgow, ahead of the World Athletics Indoor Championships scheduled from March 1-3. 

The decision marks Beijing’s return to the global athletics stage, following hosting the event in 2015 and the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games nearly two decades ago.

China leveraged the 2008 Games to step into the global spotlight as a world superpower. It was heavily criticized during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for its human rights abuses of the Uyghur ethnic minority in the country, and accused of investing in global sporting events as a means of sport washing.

The World Athletics announcement also reveals the challenge in finding a host city willing to foot the extreme cost of such an event, and the complexities of the current geopolitical climate worldwide.

After Rome Surprisingly Drops Bid, Beijing Awarded 2027 World Athletics Championships 1
World Athletics President Seb Coe

China Seen As Cash Cow for World Athletics

In a press release detailing the announcement, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe emphasized the significance of China’s role in the global sports market.

Coe highlighted China’s substantial viewership of the Diamond League, World Athletics’ annual summer track and field series, with a staggering cumulative audience of 368.9 million in 2023, demonstrating the vast potential for the sport’s growth and fan engagement in the country.

“China’s hosting of the 2027 World Athletics Championships presents a significant opportunity to expand our sport’s reach in one of the world’s largest commercial markets,” Coe said in the statement.

After Rome Surprisingly Drops Bid, Beijing Awarded 2027 World Athletics Championships 2

Rome Drops Out of the Bidding

Coe did not mention Rome, the other finalist bid for the 2028 World Athletics Championships. On Wednesday, just a day before the World Athletics decision, the Italian Athletics Federation withdrew its bid. The Italian federal government refused to guarantee the €85 million ($91.8 million USD) Rome said it needed to make World Championships feasible.

That left Beijing as the sole option for World Athletics, continuing a recent trend of global sports bodies having to rely on autocratic countries with deep pockets to support money-losing events like the World Athletics Championships.

(The 2022 edition of the Championships, held in Eugene, Oregon, lost a reported $17.2 million USD, and its host organization, USATF, filed a $6.67 million deficit as a result.)

A New Threat: A Pro League That Pays Athletes

The Beijing announcement comes in the same week as a proposed global pro track league was announced, which plans to launch in 2025.

The league is backed by Winner’s Alliance, a for-profit corporation that invests in World Tennis Association. The existence of a league on the level of pro tennis or golf could pose as direct competition for World Athletics, and could drain it of its talent pool.

World Athletics has relied on maintaining a quasi-amateur element to its events in order to keep costs down. This strategy has been deeply criticized as stifling the true professionalization of track and of growing it as sports entertainment.

Michael Johnson, the decorated American Olympian who is now spearheading the as-yet unnamed pro league, has been vocal about how World Athletics has ruled over track and field.

Beijing: Cheaper Than Paris

Wang Nan, representing the Chinese Athletics Association (CAA), expressed gratitude for the recognition and trust placed in China and Beijing by World Athletics. Zhao Wen, Director of the Beijing Sports Bureau, pointed out Beijing’s distinction as the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, and that Beijing 2028 would be a fan-friendly event.

“Fan friendly” could mean cheaper price points for tickets. In December, Coe criticized the organizing committee of the 2024 Paris Summer Games after it released its pricing levels for track events. Tickets came in at between €85 ($92) and €990 ($1069).

After Rome Surprisingly Drops Bid, Beijing Awarded 2027 World Athletics Championships 3

The upcoming 2027 World Athletics Championships will follow the 2025 event hosted by Tokyo, part of a restructuring initiative by the World Athletics Council to culminate each athletics season with the championships, offering what it hopes will be a clear highlight in mid-September. It’s unclear if hosting an annual World Championships will force the Diamond League, World Athletics’s summer track series, to cancel its own championship event.

Another lingering question is now if World Athletics will be able to consistently find a host city for an annual Championships, or if it will explore situating the event at one location for multiple years.

Additionally, at the same briefing in Glasgow, the council approved using all available lanes for semi-finals and finals of lane events, in what it hopes will enhance the competitive dynamics of the championships from 2025 onwards.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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