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Lord Coe wants ‘must-watch’ new athletics championship among top sporting events

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World Athletics president Lord Coe wants his sport’s new Ultimate Championship, boasting a record-breaking 10 million US dollars (£7.8m) prize pot, to rival events like the Champions League final and Super Bowl for excitement.

The biggest pot in athletics’ history will be distributed in September 2026, where 400 athletes representing about 70 countries will compete in the inaugural World Athletics Ultimate Championship in Budapest.

Lord Coe and his team have promised an innovative format, aimed at attracting new viewers and younger fans as a grand finale to the summer season and ensuring there is a major global athletics event taking place every calendar year.

“We want it to feel different, we want it to be fast-paced, we want it to be showtime,” said Lord Coe.

“We want it to be in large part focused on attracting new audiences, and particularly those audiences that tend to migrate to the attraction of a big championship, a big event – the Super Bowls, the Masters, Wimbledon, the Champions League final.

“This is where we want it to be sitting.”

The event is set to be held every two years, with more details about both the 2026 debut and future iterations to be unveiled at an autumn launch following consultations with stakeholders including athletes, broadcasters and shoe companies.

Each evening session, lasting under three hours, will be packed with semi-finals and finals for track disciplines, and straight finals for field disciplines, to determine “the best of the best” – a format organisers hope will ramp up the engagement value.

“Marquee” events across track and field are set to be included (Martin Rickett/PA)

Selection will be based primarily on world rankings, though considerations will also be made for local favourites.

Organisers are looking into “new competition innovations” to ensure both television and in-venue audiences will be adequately engaged.

Lord Coe is also keen to emphasise his organisation will be staging the new competition “without gimmicks, so people watching this will know they’re watching athletics, but we want it to look and feel very different.”

He added: ““With only the best of the best on show and cutting straight to semi-finals and finals, we will create an immediate pressure to perform for athletes aiming to claim the title of the ultimate champion. Featuring athletics’ biggest stars, it will be a must-watch global sports event.”

Lord Coe, who won 1500m gold and 800m silver medals at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, still acknowledges athletics faces an increasingly competitive landscape, particularly among younger audiences.

Coe said his organisation is looking closely at other sports
Coe said his organisation is looking closely at other sports (John Walton/PA)

World Athletics organisers have watched other sports “quite closely”, said Lord Coe, who added: “Sports need to permanently be vigilant about their place in the landscape.

“Sometimes that is more root and branch reengineering than it is maybe some modest course correction. I don’t want people to run away with the idea that we’re a sport that is in jeopardy or in the wrong trajectory.

“We’re not, but I do also know that there are elements of our sport that haven’t changed in 150 years. My competition career was decades ago, but it doesn’t look significantly different now, certainly in broadcast terms, than it did then.

“So there are things I think we need to do, and if we are going to famously futureproof the sport, some of those decisions are going to have to be tough ones.”

Budapest's National Athletics Centre will be home to the first edition
Budapest’s National Athletics Centre will be home to the first edition (Martin Rickett/PA)

While “all the marquee events will be there” in Budapest, said Lord Coe, “there are still details to be determined like the disciplines you can take.

“We know sprints, middle and long distance, the throws, the jumps, the relays, not every discipline, but they will all be represented there.”

Athletes will also “benefit from greater promotional rights, allowing them to commercially activate and enhance their personal profiles” according to World Athletics’ release announcing the event.

Meanwhile, UK Athletics has announced that Zharnel Hughes, Matthew Hudson-Smith, Imani-Lara Lansiquot and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake have all withdrawn from the squad for the European Athletics Championships, opening on Friday in Rome

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