It gives me great pleasure to be here today in the city of Turin, on the occasion of the 20th IAAF World Race Walking Cup.
This event is the last IAAF World Athletics Series competition of 2002, the year of the IAAF’s 90th Jubilee.
Personally, I believe the year has been a great one for our sport, with events that have been exciting and, most important, popular with the General Public. Consider the World Junior Championships in Jamaica, in the middle of July where the entire Jamaican nation seemed to adopt the event to their hearts. It was simply marvellous to see the crowds grow day by day until the final weekend, when a capacity crowd of 36,000 enthusiastic spectators filled the stadium, leaving 9,000 disappointed people outside! This passion of course, was communicated to the young athletes and we were treated to a number of world class performances.
Then soon afterwards, were other competitions which, although not directly organised by the IAAF, nevertheless contributed to the positive mood surrounding our sport. The Commonwealth Games in Manchester was remarkable for having full houses for almost every session of the Athletics in an attractive custom built stadium that was just the right size for our sport. As in Kingston, the special atmosphere created in such an environment helped to motivate the athletes
From Manchester, the show moved to Munich, where the European Championships took place. Here, despite very rainy weather, again we were blessed with great performances and big crowds. To see spectators willing to watch an evening’s athletics from under the shelter of their umbrellas, for day after day, was a heart-warming sight.
But I am also glad to report that the African and Asian Championships, which took place at the same time in Tunis and Colombo respectively, were also great adverts for the sport. The Asian Championships could boast of average evening sessions of more than 20,000 spectators, which is a record for an athletics event in Sri-Lanka.
And then we had a fantastic World Record for 100m by Tim Montgomery in Paris: a surprise ending to the Grand Prix Final where we all thought that Hicham El Guerrouj had earned the title of Overall Champion, only for Montgomery to run 9.78 and win the title as well as $250,000. Not bad for less than 10 seconds of work!
But there were also many wonderful performances on the IAAF Golden League circuit and also an exciting IAAF World Cup in Madrid. Here, despite a terrible rainstorm that almost wrecked the competition on the first day, we could see yet again why World Athletics needs some sort of team competition, which the General Public can identify with.
This brings us up to date with Turin. I am delighted that this competition, the last IAAF World Athletic Series event of 2002, is taking place in this famous city, not only because this part of Italy has always been recognised as a cradle of world class race walkers, but because Turin is now an Olympic city in waiting. The "city centre" nature of this event will also showcase the magnificent architecture of the Piedmont capital, and should provide superb TV images, just as was the case in 1997 when the IAAF World Cross Country Championships was held in Turin's Valentino Park. I am very excited at the prospect of seeing the world's best walkers in action, especially because the course has been especially designed so as to attract the maximum number of spectators.
The IAAF World Race Walking Cup is the most important rendezvous for international walkers, with men's races of 50km and 20km and a women's race of 20km. A total of $210,000 is available in individual prize money (on a sliding scale from $30,000 for 1st to $3000 for 6th) and another $157,500 for teams (from $15,000 for 1st to $3,000 for 6th).
Many of you will be aware that the IOC recently announced that it was considering the place of race walking at the Olympic Games ollowing some incidents at the 2000 Games in Sydney. I believe that this is the appropriate place to announce that the IAAF believes strongly that race walking is an integral part of the sport of athletics, and of the Olympic Games with which the discipline has been associated since 1908.
As we recently explained in a letter to the IOC, the main reason for the belated disqualification of the leader of the Men’s 20km Walk in Sydney was because SOCOG chose not to invest in the electronic judging and communication system that we ourselves use at all IAAF World Championships and World Race Walking Cup competitions. It was this, rather than any inherent problem with the event, that provoked the unfortunate scenes in Sydney. I am confident that the IOC Executive Committee, when presented with our explanation, will take a more reasoned view.
Finally, I would like once again, to pay tribute to the late IAAF President Primo Nebiolo, a resident of the city. This is the first time that we have returned here since the death of Primo in 1999, and I hope that we are able to put on a good show that is worthy of his memory.
Thank you ….