Universities in Doha have been offered free tickets to the IAAF World Athletics Championships, amid severe criticism over the event’s dire attendance figures.

According to SportBusiness, the Qatar Foundation has sent a letter to students and faculty members at several international universities in Doha’s Education City to invite them to attend the championships, which has so far been plagued by poor attendances.

The email said: “In collaboration with the Olympic Committee, we are pleased to inform you that starting today and for the remainder of the competition, we are offering free entry for our community to attend (including employees, students and their families).”

The Qatar Foundation, which is the capacity-building arm of the Qatari government which is also responsible for the Gulf State’s investment in education, has given members a code to gain free access to the championships.

Craig LaMay, professor in residence at the Northwestern University in Qatar, told SportBusiness that he had also received messages from former students interning at the Qatar Foundation indicating the organisers and local authorities were concerned about the negative public relations the event was attracting.

He said: “It goes to show it is absolutely true that they are giving away tickets and that they are concerned about the international news coverage.”

The LOC sent the following statement to SportBusiness: “The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organisation made up of more than 50 entities working in education, research, and community development. The LOC has purchased tickets and distributed them to Qatar Foundation, as part of our marketing outreach to schools and higher education. This has always been part of our approach and we are delighted they are giving people the opportunity to attend a major international event.

“We have engaged over 100 schools across Qatar as part of our commitment to the growth of athletics in our country.”

Earlier this week, the local organising committee (LOC) of the IAAF World Championships blamed the embarrassingly low attendances on scheduling for global TV viewership and boycotts.

Athletics’ showpiece event has been marred by small crowds since the championships got underway in the Qatari capital last Friday. Only 50,000 tickets have been sold across the 10 days of action, with the top section of the 40,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium closed off, reducing the capacity to 21,000.

During the headline men’s 100m final last weekend, the stadium was half full. Reports have suggested that as few as 1,000 people were in the stadium for Sunday’s competitions.

Image: William Warby