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Athletics chief calls for improvements

Asafa Powell equalled his own 100-metre world record of 9.77 seconds on Friday night in Zurich

(Keystone)

Changes must be made to athletics schedules and prize money to keep events like the Zurich Weltklasse alive, organiser Hansjörg Wirz tells swissinfo.

Wirz is about to stand down after seven years dedicated to the meeting that takes place at the Letzigrund for the last time on Friday. The stadium is closing for renovation.

A cast of five world record holders, 18 European champions, 15 recent Olympic gold medallists and 14 current world champions – headed by sprinters Asafa Powell and Jeremy Wariner – will grace this year's meet.

But Wirz is concerned that a clash of dates with an event in Britain this weekend has deprived spectators of other star names.

He wants athletes on the Golden League circuit to get more reward for their efforts to encourage them to keep turning up. At present they must win at least five out of six meetings to stand a chance of cashing in on the jackpot.

swissinfo: What are your expectations for the last Weltklasse at the old Letzigrund?

Hansjörg Wirz: We want the last meeting at the old stadium to project the proud and magical image of the Weltklasse.

I'm excited about the fact that this is the last meeting at the old stadium and we will be holding a celebration to commemorate this. But that celebration is also linked to the fact that in a year's time we will have a new stadium that gives us new possibilities. We are a bit sad but we are also very happy that we have the chance for a new future.

swissinfo: Some world class athletes are competing in a clashing event in Britain [a match up of teams from Britain, the US, Russia and China]. What can be done about this in future?

H.W.: If we speak about the whole calendar in Europe that is certainly something we have to look at in the future. We have seen an increase in meetings that are not coordinated with the Golden League.
That has to be sorted out now because these tournaments between countries are on the increase after being very low-key for some time.

swissinfo: The incentive for athletes to attend Golden League events is reduced if they do not win every time.

H.W.: The jackpot system says athletes must win six times to claim the reward while in other sports you are a star when you have won three times. We have said you are not good enough to be called the best until you have six wins.

We have changed this recently to integrate those who have five wins, but I think we have to take yet another step.

swissinfo: The Berlin Golden League event has banned athletes who are coached by Trevor Graham [implicated in recent doping scandals]. Why have you not done this?

H.W.: To make such a decision you have to have a background and a clear-cut set of circumstances.

We took a clear position before the 2004 Olympics that all athletes or other people who are involved in active [doping] investigations would not get invited to Zurich. That gives us solid and credible grounds to back up our strategy.

swissinfo: What are the highlights of your years in charge of Weltklasse?

H.W.: The highlight is always reaching the end of a balanced meeting. By this I mean that the whole event has been of high quality rather than one highlight with the rest of the action on an average level.

That is why we have so many spectators here in Zurich generating such a great atmosphere in the stadium that is enjoyed by the athletes.

swissinfo: Can next year's Weltklasse be even better?

H.W.: Next year we have a new stadium, new facilities and the modern tools of communication necessary to integrate spectators even more. We are convinced we are taking a step towards how athletics should be presented in the future.

swissinfo-interview: Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

First held in 1928, 23 world records have been broken at Weltklasse, the last three taking place in 1997.
Asafa Powell (men's 100m), Jeremy Warner (men's 400m), Sanya Richards (women's 400m) and Tirunesh Dibaba (women's 5,000m) can still win all six Golden league events this year.

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In brief

The six events on this year's Golden League take place in Oslo, Paris, Rome, Zurich, Brussels and Berlin. Athletes who win all six meetings take a share of $1 million while those who win five get a slice of $500,000.

The new Letzigrund will be a multi-purpose stadium with a maximum capacity of 25,000 for football matches, 30,000 for athletics meetings and up to 50,000 for open-air concerts.

Former stars, including Sebastian Coe, Carl Lewis and Sergey Bubka will attend the closing ceremony.

Hansjörg Wirz is also president of the European Athletics Association and plans to run for another four-year term in that position.

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