Rolling out DNA: the ‘Matchup in Madrid’ is the next step
21 February 2023
When the six invited national teams gather tomorrow for the first-ever European Athletics DNA U20 indoor event, billed as the ‘Matchup in Madrid’, it will mark the latest phase of a more than four-year campaign to promote Dynamic New Athletics to athletes and audiences across Europe.
The match, which will take place at midday in Madrid’s Gallur Municipal Sports Centre, will feature more than 100 athletes from the Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Portugal and hosts Spain.
Data from social media channels like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter show that awareness of DNA has grown since its 2019 debut at the European Games in Minsk with a 24 national team tournament for senior athletes and last winter’s six-team senior international indoor match in Glasgow helped to ignite interest in the innovative team athletics format.
After last summer’s 12-team ‘Clash of the Clubs’ for club-level U20 athletes in Castellón, Spain, a six-team indoor event for some of Europe’s top U20 performers became the next logical step.
Making it happen on the day calls for a behind the scenes network of specialists ranging from European Athletics leaders to local organisers to national team officials.
“Successfully introducing a new competition to a traditional sport like athletics needs to be done carefully so that we get the word out but people understand that we are adding a complementary format, not taking something away,” said Libor Varhanik, European Athletics vice president and chair of the DNA project steering group.
“Our rollout strategy so far has been based on two ideas: the first is strong promotion through social media and live streaming and the second is letting fans and athletes at all levels experience DNA themselves, both outdoors and indoors so they tell others what they think.”
“So far, the reactions we have heard have been nothing but positive. If the athletes competing tomorrow have an enjoyable experience, there will be more people spreading the word and the DNA movement will continue growing from the ground up.”
DNA has already taken strong root in Spain, partly due to the Spanish team’s overwhelming victory in the indoor match in Glasgow and partly because of the Royal Spanish Athletics Federation (REFEA) policy to make the concept a key part of its domestic and international programme.
Stepping in to host tomorrow’s event after the original host city, Istanbul, was unable to stage the match as part of its build-up for next month’s European Athletics Indoor Championships, was a natural thing to do according to Luis Saladie, the RFEA’s Director of Competitions.
“We already planned to send a strong team to Istanbul and, of course, we have the experience of delivering the U20 clubs event last year so when the call came from European Athletics, we were ready,” he said.
“Fortunately, we have been able to link the match to Madrid’s World Athletics Indoor Gold Tour meeting and the conditions will be identical for both competitions – same track, same officials, same timing system, same scoreboard. I am sure it will be a really memorable experience for everyone involved.”
Also stepping in at the last moment will be the team from Portugal, a late addition to the competition after the Turkish team was forced to withdraw due to the tragic earthquake earlier this month.
“Our senior team was in Glasgow last year and we have planned a national U20 DNA championship for later this year, so DNA is already well understood in our country,” said Alexandre Costa, who is responsible for national teams and high performance in the Portuguese athletics federation.
“Tomorrow we will have some up and coming stars like hurdler Sisino Ambriz, who was a semi-finalist at the World Athletics U20 Championships, and even though the match comes just three days before our national indoor championships, the whole team is excited about competing and getting some international experience.
International experience will also be an objective for the team from Ireland. Performance Pathway Manager Jacqui Freyne said most of the Irish athletes will have followed the previous DNA events in Glasgow and Castellon on social media and streaming and all are keen to compete in Madrid.
“We plan to stay an extra night so that everyone can be at the Indoor Golden Tour meeting after our match.”
Freyne added that an important part of her team’s Madrid experience will be to allow tactical decisions in the match, like the running order in the relays, to be made by the athletes themselves.
“We’ve organised a briefing on all aspects of DNA for the day before the match so they will be well prepared.”
Explaining that his country’s team would include the 2022 European Athletics U18 800m champion Jakub Dudycha and Lurdes Manuel, the 400m silver medallist from the same competition, the Czech team’s technical leader, Jan Koutnik, said his athletes were looking to see how they stack up against their competition.
“We believe that even as a smaller country, we can be an equal opponent to other strong teams.”
“DNA is still a relatively new idea at the domestic level in our country but the club team from AK Skoda Plzen competed in Castellon last summer and of course all the athletes will have been following everything on social media,” he added.
According to Germany’s Frank Hamm, a top international competition official who will be tomorrow’s Technical Delegate for European Athletics, a key to the success of DNA is flexibility. “To a large extent, the interest we see at different levels is because DNA is not just one fixed format, rather, it can be adjusted according to different factors such the age or experience of the athletes,” he said.
“But even if things might look a little different from what fans in the stadium or those watching the live stream are used to, it is exciting to see and it is still athletics. Tomorrow, for example, the athletes will receive world ranking points in nine of the 11 disciplines.”
“There is a basic framework of ideas that define DNA – mixed-gender teams, a compact timetable, one discipline happening at a time, everything counts, a final relay using the Gundersen method to determine the match winner, etc. – but beyond that, adaptations of the event programme and even some rules are possible and with this flexibility we are already seeing different flavours of DNA in different countries.”
Creativity in DNA goes beyond the technical aspects to the promotion of showcase events, where the strategy has been to build audiences by empowering the athletes taking part to share content, much of it self-created, through their personal social media networks.
“We are targeting a younger audience so we have to use their channels to engage them. Who better to put in charge of communications than the athletes themselves,” asks Hamm.
“To go even one step further, tomorrow, as in previous DNA showcase events, we will be pushing back against a big taboo in traditional athletics by encouraging the competitors to bring their smartphones onto the infield during the competition. That way they can become broadcasters themselves and bring their followers as close as possible to the experience.”
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