Weltklasse Zürich used the past twelve months to fill the void left by the pandemic with new, inspiring ideas and initiatives. Now, the promoters are, once again, facing some tough challenges with regard to the Wanda Diamond League finals scheduled for 8 and 9 September. Being Weltklasse Zürich, the team intends to tackle any obstacle ahead and to navigate the journey through the unknown by setting course for the future. In a conversation with the meeting’s Head of Media Relations and Communications Andreas Cueni, the two Co-Meeting Directors Andreas Hediger and Christoph Joho discuss the most urgent questions for Weltklasse Zürich 2021 (in Swiss German).
These are trying – and intriguing – times. The Coronavirus pandemic maintains its firm grip on the world, while Weltklasse Zürich is preparing for an event that, in this form, is unprecedented: For the first time, all Wanda Diamond League final events will take place in Zurich. The occasion will mark the conclusion of this year’s Olympic season. There will be as many as 32 events and two venues – the famous Sechseläutenplatz and the legendary Letzigrund Stadium. And, of course, there will be world’s most expert fans, the unique atmosphere, and emotional images that will travel around the globe. Exciting prospects!
Being flexible, staying calm
So much for the dream. “The reality is that we are working with several potential scenarios,” emphasises Christoph Joho, pointing to an approach promoters of major events all over the world are forced to take these days. He hopes that things will be back to normal by September, but several questions remain: How many visitors will be allowed in the stadium? What will the required safety plan look like? Until such aspects can be finalised, any announcements, with regard to the ticket sale, for instance, have to wait.
“We might be able to see where things are going by June. Meanwhile we are in close contact with authorities, organisations, such as the Diamond League, SPONSORING SCHWEIZ, Swiss Top Events, and other major events in Switzerland,” says Christoph Joho. The current uncertainties require everyone to be very flexible – and to stay calm. An unfamiliar starting position: “In the past, we always had a plan and followed it. We did things as early as possible, sometimes we may have almost overorganised things,” Joho admits. “Now, we have to start at the other end, leave things as late as possible and be as flexible as possible.”
Diamond League not endangered
A similar approach will have to be applied by all Diamond League meetings and thus for the “road to Zurich”, so to speak. The most prestigious athletics series currently includes 14 meetings on four continents. Zurich is the first sole host for the season final in 2021 and 2022. “At this time, all promoters work under the assumption that they will be able to stage their meetings, but things could change within weeks,” explains Christoph Joho, pointing to the challenges on a global level. But even the cancellation of some individual meetings will not endanger the series as such. “I am convinced that we will be able to organise wonderful final events for which athletes will have the opportunity to qualify in a fair way.”
Three Sechseläutenplatz scenarios
The preferred scenario for the two-day event in Zurich is the following: On Wednesday, 8 September, Zurich brings out the longest ever red carpet for Diamond League finalists. Our partner Conica will install a 560m track around the Zurich Opera House and across Sechseläutenplatz, setting a novel yet worthy stage for the men’s and women’s 5000m final races. The women’s high jump and both the men’s and women’s high jump and shotput finals will be held on three platforms. Restrictions permitting, the stands surrounding these platforms will include both seats and several standing areas.
“We will present seven final events in the city centre. Our goal is to reach all residents, including those who might not come to the stadium to attend competitions,” says Andreas Hediger, who is responsible for all technical aspects of the event. With the unique setting on Lake Zurich, the promoters would like to create an opportunity to see the stars and watch the action from up close. Should that not be possible, there is a scenario with seating areas only, and also one in which there are no spectators at all. The latter, according to Hediger, would not make much sense, however. “We stage competitions on Sechseläutenplatz for the benefit of a live audience, after all.” Thus, an alternative plan for the seven events in question would have to be considered if no spectators are allowed.
Two finals at Letzigrund Stadium
As for ideal scenarios: On Thursday, 9 September, there will be no less than 25 Diamond Trophies up for grabs. For the first time, a full programme of events, including races from 100m to 3000m SC, vertical and horizontal jumps, as well as javelin and discus throws. The night will treat fans to an athletics spectacle (which will be broadcast live during three hours) and to a cast of more national and international stars than ever before. “It will truly be Olympic Games in one night,” Andreas Hediger promises.
But even when the last Diamond League final competition is completed, the Weltklasse Zürich week continues: On Saturday, 11 September, Letzigrund Stadium hosts yet another grand finale – the national final of the UBS Kids Cup. Inspired by their idols, Switzerland’s most talented seven- to fifteen-year-olds get ready to compete in events involving the three fundamental movements – running, jumping, and throwing.
Playing an important role beyond athletics
The UBS Kids Cup, Switzerland’s largest project for young athletes, is exemplary of Weltklasse Zürich’s philosophy. “We would like to inspire people, show new approaches, develop new ideas,” explains Christoph Joho, outlining the meeting’s role in a framework that includes partners, fans, and families. To give an example: “When the indoor season of the popular competition series fell victim to Covid 19 restrictions, we tried to figure out a way to motivate kids for lockdown games, sports, and activities.” In February, numerous families were provided with free activity boxes, tips for exercises, and some valuable digital support from various Swiss athletics stars.’.
A new instalment of the Inspiration Series
„Burying our heads in the sand would just not be a very Weltklasse thing to do,” says Joho when reflecting on the Weltklasse Zürich mindset. On the contrary: Inspiring others instead of giving up is the motto of the Inspiration Series, an initiative the meeting launched together with partners a year ago. It sent almost 100 000 Swiss residents on a OneMillionRun.
The Inspiration Games, held in seven arenas and six countries, then served as a starting gun for the global athletics outdoor season. And they showed what is possible, even in difficult conditions. “This provided us with enough energy for whatever happens. Maybe this will be another difficult year, but we have to invest now, so that we are ready in 2022, 2023, 2024...,” Christoph Joho emphasises. He knows he can count on a highly motivated team.
Pioneering projects for coaches and athletes
The Inspiration Series also promotes and shapes the everyday work of athletes and coaches. A recently established innovation cell at the OYM in Cham, for instance, enables top athletes of the Zurich athletics club to train in state-of-the-art conditions and on the basis of the latest scientific findings. For coaches, various initiatives aimed at producing more high-level athletics coaches in Switzerland have been launched. “We are preparing and positioning ourselves for the future. There are several new projects we are working on,” promises Andreas Hediger. Weltklasse Zürich, as always, tries to be one step ahead – on and off the “road to Zurich”.