‘Crotch cameras’ at World Athletics Championships saw bosses face big backlash

Television took issue with being shown images from the perspective between an athlete’s legs as fans were treated to ‘crotch cameras’ at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha – but athletes were not pleased with the unflattering angle.

Several athletes were frustrated by the inclusion of the controversial camera as it showed unprecedented and ultimately unnecessary images were shown before they competed on one of the grandest stages in their sport. For South African star Akani Simbine, the camera’s even invaded athletes’ personal spaces.

“I’m not too keen about it because it’s kind of invading my private space in a sense,” said Simbine, who finished fourth in the men’s 100m final. “Being in the blocks is one of the athlete’s sacred spaces and that’s the point where you just want to be alone and be free.

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“You have a camera in your face and you don’t really want to have a camera in your face.”

While the likes of Justin Gatlin simply laughed off the ‘crotch cameras’, others were deeply frustrated by the decision to include them in the first place. The backlash against organisers truly began once images began to filter through to the athletes themselves.

An official complaint came from the German track and field federation, which led to the competition officials deciding to drop the cameras that were introduced in Doha as part of an initiative to attract new viewers, which saw graphics being projected onto the track and pre-race dimming of lights, too. British star Dina Asher-Smith, who won gold in the 200m, added: “My friends told me the pictures weren’t very flattering.”

The IAAF installed two small cameras into the starting blocks to capture what it called the ‘explosion of energy’ from athletes. Before the idea, these moments were only previously seen from above or the side of their heads.

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Plenty of athletes objected but some didn’t. Canada’s 100m bronze medal winner Andre De Grasse said: “It’s pretty cool for the fan base they get to see us in the blocks.

“But you can’t get distracted by it. You’ve just got to focus on your race and not look too much toward the camera.”

British sprinter Zharnel Hughes was a fan of the attempt to reinvent some aspects of the sport but he criticised the execution of the technology. He claimed he could even hear the cameras working while embedded inside the blocks.

“It’s a cool feature but it’s a bit scary at the same time because it’s looking up your nose,” Hughes said. You aren’t looking at it. You know it’s there because when you are set on your blocks you hear it.”

In a statement issued during the Championships, the IAAF said: “We have noted some specific feedback about the block cameras and we have confirmed we have appropriate measures in place to protect athlete privacy during the process of selecting images for broadcast.

“We also have strict editorial guidelines for what is broadcast and these have been observed since the beginning of the championships.”

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