Michael Pavitt

Who knew that athletics needed to become more complicated to attract new fans to the sport?

One of sport’s best selling points is its accessibility to newcomers, which has contributed to athletics being the top tier sport on the Olympic programme.

A child watching their first Olympic Games does not need to work too hard to determine the basics of the sport.

The first person across the line in the 100 metres has won the race. Simple.

The athlete with the furthest throw wins. Simple.

Granted the pole vault is slightly more difficult to explain to a newcomer – I mean how did it become an event in the first place – but even a novice would agree Armand Duplantis is pretty good at it.

Then we come to the long jump.

What happens is the athletes all compete for five rounds to determine the top three. 

Then the top three compete in a further round, with the furthest jump deciding the finishing order of the competition. 

So, the winner of the competition might have actually finished with the third best jump.

Got it? Easy.

Unfortunately, what I have just described has bizarrely been trialled on two occasions during the World Athletics Indoor Tour seasons.

A new format for the long jump was trialled at the World Indoor Athletics Tour event in Glasgow last weekend ©Getty Images
A new format for the long jump was trialled at the World Indoor Athletics Tour event in Glasgow last weekend ©Getty Images

The first trial came in Germany at Karlsruhe, where Spain’s Eusebio Caceres celebrated victory with a jump of 7.99 metres.

The format worked – or did not work – when Ukraine’s Vladyslav Mazur finished as the runner-up with an effort of 7.84m.

His effort was less than the 7.88m achieved by Germany’s Julian Howard in an earlier round, but Mazur took second spot due to his rival fouling with his final round attempt.

As well as confusing some of athletics’ most ardent fans, who were left working out how the second best jump had ended up being only enough for third place, the general impression left was ‘What was the point of this?’

This impression was strengthened at the second trial, which took place last weekend in Glasgow.

Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk led the competition after producing a jump of 6.90m, with Sweden’s Khaddi Sangia and Britain’s Jazmin Sawyers trailing on 6.53m and 6.47m.

The trio advanced to the final round – with another home favourite Katarina Johnson-Thompson missing out on competing again – where the standings were reset.

In baffling scenes, Sawyers, Sangia and Bekh-Romanchuk all then preceded to foul with their final jump to make the trial completely redundant, with their previous distances used to determine the top three.

The general impression is that the trials were tinkering with the format in the hope to build a climax to the competition, but instead only preceded to deliver confusion.

You could even argue it removes the most dramatic outcome possible, where an athlete comes from way down in the standings to propel themselves into one of the medal positions.

The debate in the insidethegames office quickly turned to the potential ramifications. 

For instance, could an athlete potentially set a world record in an earlier round only to finish the competition in third place due to a foul in the last round.

I also wonder whether the format favours the athlete who finished third after the five rounds. 

The athlete has absolutely nothing to lose having already ‘finished’ the competition in third place, so can only improve.

Could the athlete not take a tactical decision to produce a safe jump and potentially watch the top two foul out in the final round by going all out for victory?

It seems wrong that an athlete who has led the competition suddenly finds the pressure on them in the final to overtake their rivals.

As a rule, I would also suggest that if the crowd and fans are struggling to work out the result of a competition, it is probably not a good idea.

The format change did not meet the approval of athletes on social media either.

“I’m so pleased I got out,” London 2012 Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford tweeted after the event in Karlsruhe.

“This format is utterly ridiculous. 

"The athletes should skip the first five rounds and then just jump the last. The sports gone mad.”

Rio 2016 Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta concurred with Rutherford’s assessment of the format.

“That’s how I feel sometimes...with the rules changing all the time and opportunities becoming more and more limited,” she responded.

“I can barely recognise the sport I fell in love with.”

With suggestions the format could carry over to the Diamond League season, I would hope World Athletics will examine the feedback and knock the experiment on the head.

While it is easy to criticise the governing body for these experiments, I think the trial of this format acts as an acknowledgement that work is needed to ensure field events receive the attention they deserve.

I have written before about the difficulty spectators have when following field events in a stadium, where you are often on the other side of the venue and are unable to track changes in the leaderboard and drama.

Even watching on television at home, the field events sometimes appear to be filling time between events on the track.

However, the starting point must be how the event is presented or scheduled if changes are going to be made, rather than unnecessarily tinkering with the format itself.