The decision to hold next year’s World Para-athletics Championships in Dubai could be a “step back” for Para-sport, says British two-time Paralympic champion Aled Sion Davies.
The Welshman, 27, fears lessons have not been learned from empty stadiums at the 2015 edition in Doha, Qatar.
He recalls it being “depressing” and “sad” when he won his gold medal there.
Three-time double world champion Davies also criticised the decision to hold the championships in November.
The ninth edition of the World Para-athletics Championships will be staged from 7-15 November 2019.
But others – including Davies’ British team-mate and five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft – have said athletes and their coaches must “work it out”.
“There are a lot of athletes online complaining that November is late and it’ll be a long season and adds stress and pressure,” said Cockroft, a 10-time world champion.
“But Doha 2015 was late in the season and if you’re a good coach and athlete pairing you’ll work it out. This is our job and sometimes you get set deadlines you don’t like.”
‘Depressing’ empty stadiums
Davies says the British public – and the world – embraced Para-sport at the London 2012 Paralympics, but there was “nobody there” in Doha three years later.
“Walking out into an empty stadium was kind of depressing, because you think this is supposed to be one of the biggest stages, and I think our fear as athletes looking at Dubai is that we’re going to have the same thing again,” he said.
“I’ve been out to Dubai as part of the IPC Grand Prix in 2015 and it’s in the same stadium [next year] and there was nobody there, there was no interest.”
Davies says something “sparked up again” when the World Championships returned to London in 2017, where he won F42 shot put and discus gold.
“The night when I won my shot put there were 40,000 people there and it was lovely to have,” he said.
Why did the IPC pick Dubai?
Next year’s championships in Dubai will mark the first time the event has taken place in the United Arab Emirates.
Organisers have said athletes will find “world-class facilities”, adding they were confident that Dubai would “exceed expectations”.
But Davies questions the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to stage the event there, after its staging in Doha was criticised for poor attendance.
“The IPC would have seen Doha, how de-motivating and how much of a step backwards that World Championships was for the athletes,” he said.
“London again kind of picked the Paralympic sport back up off the floor and I just hope Dubai is not going to knock it down.”
More than 230,000 people attended the London 2017 championships – more than in all seven of the previous events combined.
“I would like to see a championships where it is embraced by the country,” added Davies.
“If you can’t sell the tickets for these championships then invite people along for free. That’s what we did here in Britain and in the end there’s a demand for it now. I just wish the other countries would just learn from what we’ve done, adopt those techniques and see the sport flourish.”
November championships will be ‘tough’
As well as the location, Davies has concerns about the timing of the Dubai championships.
He says it was “really annoying” they were being held so late in the year and warned it could lead to the sport’s “big stars” giving them a miss it to focus on Tokyo 2020.
“November for a World Championships is always going to be tough,” he said.
“I know a lot of athletes will be thinking ‘this is going to hinder my preparations for Tokyo’. We saw Jonnie Peacock do it in 2015, he gave Doha a miss because he didn’t want to affect his preparations going into Rio 2016.
“This is a month later again and it was hard enough to try and peak for October, now we’re going to have to peak for November. I just don’t understand the decision.”
But Cockroft, who won T34 100m and 200m gold at the 2011 World Championships in Christchurch, says athletes will be nearing peak form for the Tokyo Paralympics when they arrive in Dubai.
“If you train right for Dubai there’s only going to be six months between then and going off to Tokyo, not a lot can change in six months,” she said.
“If I can hold on through Dubai and become world champion there I’ll feel a lot more confident going to Tokyo. I’m happy about it.”
Davies said he will go to Dubai to defend his two world titles in the shot put and discus, and added he hopes to be proved wrong and that the championships will be a success.
“Personally I will be doing it because I’m not one to give up a title I own,” he said.