It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you in the great city of Athens for the 10th edition of the IAAF World Cup in Athletics, the only major international athletics competition for teams, which will take place this weekend in the magnificent Olympic Stadium.
Greece’s contribution to our sport has been immense, not only because our sport was born in this country many thousands of years ago, but because the current Olympic era, with athletics at its heart, also started in Athens in 1896 with the first Games of the modern era. Of course, we all have vivid memories of 2004, when the Games returned to Athens in such impressive fashion, but we should also not forget that in 2005, we had a magnificent 100m world record by Asafa Powell at the Athens Super Grand Prix meeting.
All these great memories mean that the World Cup, which takes place every 4 years, is even more eagerly awaited than ever. So what is the World Cup?
Quite simply, it is the only IAAF competition which is exclusively for teams and offers the athlete, and the spectator, the chance to see gifted solo players – working hard for their own orchestras – battling for points on behalf of their colleagues. The points range from 9 for first place down to 1.
You will see the representatives of Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania, up against single nation teams from France (men), Poland (women) Russia (men and women) USA and the host nation of Greece.
In 1977, when the first edition of the World Cup took place in Dusseldorf, it was the only IAAF track competition outside of the Olympic Games, which, until 1983, was still being considered as the official IAAF World Championships. Since then, even though the IAAF has greatly developed its programme, the World Cup has held its unique appeal. There is nothing quite like following a team – but the individual results achieved can also be outstanding and three world records have been set at the World Cup. The records were: Men’s 4x100m relay by the USA in 1977, and two others, the women’s 4x100 mark set by the GDR in 1985 (41.37) and the woman’s 400m mark of 47.60 set by Marita Koch also in Canberra.
The reigning team champion in the Men’s Competition is Africa, who will be looking to secure an unprecedented fifth consecutive men’s World Cup victory here this weekend. But this points-based competition is about far more than just winning. It draws together an essentially individual sport, engendering an unparalleled team spirit, bonding disparate athletes and nations into continental units in an exciting team competition. It is these qualities which make the IAAF World Cup in Athletics a unique force for good in world sport.
The European and African teams were selected during the recent Area Championships – which took place this year during the same time period. I saw with my own eyes that both competitions, in Gothenburg and Mauritius respectively, went extremely well. The IAAF’s aim is to strengthen Area competitions, and make them not only attractive to up-and-coming athletes but also important to the stars as well, because by competing “at home” they are really putting something back into the sport.
Although it is a Team Competition, there is also close to US $3 Million of Prize Money based on placings. This ranges from $30,000 for first place to $1,000 for 8th (and $2,000 in the case of the relays).
Finally, I would like to use this opportunity, at the last major IAAF track and field competition of the year, to thank you all for your support for our sport in 2006. We have faced some tough challenges, like the loss of our General Secretary Istvan Gyulai in March, and a number of high profile doping cases this summer, but we have continued to fight hard for the good of Athletics. Thanks to our athletes, we have had excellent competitions all year, with outstanding events at the Commonwealth Games, the World Indoor Championships, the World Junior Championships as well as the World Athletics Final, while we can only be delighted by the success of the new IAAF World Athletics Tour, and the Golden League series, which continues to showcase our sport each year. I am looking forward, with a lot of optimism, to 2007, when with the support of our athletes, we will make the next edition of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Osaka a tremendous success.
Thank you for your attention!