World Athletics Launches New Biennial Championship

(AFP) — World Athletics on Monday launched a new three-day global championship starting in 2026 in Budapest to attempt to ensure track and field has a global audience in the years between world championships.

The World Athletics Ultimate Championship will take place every two years, with the first on September 11 to 13, 2026.

Gold medallists are set to receive US$150,000 (138,000 euros) each from an overall prize fund of US$10 million, the largest ever prize pot in the history of the sport.

The event will be held every two years — in other words, in the years between outdoor world championships which are also biennial, with the next taking place in Tokyo in 2025.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said the timing of the Ultimate Championship would “ensure for the first time that athletics will enjoy a moment of maximum audience reach on an annual basis”.

“We want to make sure that we have the famous billion eyeballs that watch our world championships and Olympics Games,” Coe said in a conference call with international reporters.

“We have to have every year in that four-year cycle that coalescence of fans on television and secondly it is really important that we extend the season as much as we can at both ends. We need the athletes out there as often as they can.”

The new event will feature up to 16 of the world’s top-ranked athletes per discipline, with a total of around 400 athletes taking part.

The field events will be straight finals while track athletes must progress through semi-finals.

“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,” Coe said.

“We want it to look different, we want it to feel different, we want it to be show time, we want it to be focused on attracting new audiences.”

World Athletics have chosen to return to Budapest, which hosted the 2023 World Championships in front of near-capacity crowds for the evening sessions. They were “arguably our most successful world championships”, Coe said.

While the venue for the 2028 Ultimate Championship has not been decided, the Briton said it was possible Budapest could be chosen again.

“It is possible these could come back to Budapest in ’28 but we are a global sport… fundamentally we want to make sure we go to places where we’re not just chasing the dollar but we know we will go to organising committees that… have the ability and competence to deliver a world-class championships.

“If you don’t, you are badly serving the athletes. There is no point increasing prize money for athletes if they are competing in front of empty stadiums.”