In Canada, they can televise hockey games locally and still be assured of a sellout at the gate. Track and field is something else, the World Cup organizers discovered this weekend, as empty seats helped to mute the expected excitement of the most prestigious meet outside the Olympic games.
It is questionable how many attended in person, since the official three-day total of 69,836 included a boost of 5,500 in the previously announced figures for each of the first two days. Regardless, it was a long way from the 135,000 who say the first World Cup in Dusseldorf, where the presence of the West German men's team was a big plus.
"This is a national disgrace," said Gerald Mach, the Canadian coach who guided the Americas ii team here. "What I cannot understand is how hockey can be so big here and track so little. In Europe, this is the major event of the year. "The World Cup is 10 times more important than Russian hockey players. Ten times. They get pages and pages written about them everywhere they go and on this, nothing."
Lack of publicity was not the key to the poor crowds, however. Why should anyone pay up to $20 a session to sit, confused and uninformed, in a stadium ill-suited for track and field when he could stay home and get both a better view and more pertinent information?
Like the Olympics, the World Cup was diminished by lack of any announcements of results. Race times were unavailable for as long as 30 minutes. Field-event performances were briefly flashed on auxiliary scoreboards, but with several events occurring at once it was impossible to follow any competition closely.
When Larry Myricks recorded history's second best long jump of 27 feet 11 1/2 inches Sunday, there was virtually no crowd reaction. There were gasps, however, when the winning distance was noted during the awards ceremony.
The athletes themselves did not enhance the meet's importance. Stars like Sebastian Coe stayed home and many who came admitted to being weary from the long season.
"If I didn't have to be here, I wouldn't be here," said hurdles winner Renaldo Nehemiah, who refused to appear for a press interview after his victory.
"I'm really tired and ready to go home," said pole vault champion Mike Tully, who did not even stay for his award ceremony.
The disinterest of the athletcs was noticeable during the opening ceremonies, when only nine members of the American team, dominated by host Canada, bothered to participate. While only two U.S. athletes, Steve Scott and Willie Smith, marched in the closing ceremony, a team captain downed a beer in the press box.
The East Germans, Soviets, Australians and Asians were out in force and danced hand in hand with brightly costumed youngsters to the applause of the crowd.
"We often find ourselves criticized in the press because out athletes make their own decisions," said U.S. Coach Sam Bell, who seemed to be implying that he really could not do much about his charges' attitudes.
Scheduling was sometimes ludicrous, with the men's high jump and pole vault being staged simultaneously Saturday at one end of the huge stadium. The hammer throw, Saturday's first event, ran longer than planned and caused a subsequent delay in running events that obviously affected performances.
The stadium is so big that binoculars are required for reasonable scrutiny of any events and athletes experience a feeling of unreality.
"It's not a good atmosphere for championship competition," said, Olympic discus champion Mac Wilkins. "The atmosphere is unusual for track and field. It's almost like an indoor competition."
False starts were prevalent, as the organizers disdained use of the pressure starting blocks that prevented beat-the-gun attempts in the Olympic Games. There were three recalls in the men's 100, two in the men's 400 meter relay, and two in the women's 100 meter hurdles.
The format of one athlete representing each of eight teams meant that quality often was absent. Some great European pole vaulters were missing, for example, while Africa and Oceania were represented by mediocrities.
Coe stayed home because he did not choose to represent Europe, although he said he would have come if he were competing for his native Great Britain. Kunt Hjeltnes, the Norwegian discus thrower, said it was "prestigious to be able to participate on a European team, but it is hard to find any team spirit. There are too many language difficulties, and who wants to say 'Rah, Europe.'"
Only the United States, which won the men's competition; East Germany, the women's champion, and the Soviet Union had the incentive to compete on a team basis, to struggle for that extra point or two even though out of contention for a gold medal.
"It is important for me and for my country," said East German Wolfgang Schmidt, the discus winner. "Everyone knows the World Cup is the most important event of the year and knows it early enough to make his schedule accordingly."
Myricks, Evelyn Ashford and Debbie Brill capitalized on the opportunity the World Cup presented. Too many other athletes, however, burned themselves out last week in Zurich, Berlin, Cologne and Nice. As a result, memorable performances were in smaller supply than one would have expected of this caliber competition.
What track and field needs is a true world championship with all the top individuals, rather than a contrived team situation like thw World Cup. That world championship is targeted for a debut in 1982, at which time the World Cup will probably receive last rites.