Sebastian Coe presides World Athletics. GETTY IMAGES

After announcing it would pay winning Track & Field athletes in the upcoming Paris Olympic Games, the association presided by Sebastian Coe has allotted a $10 million (€9.2 million) prize pot, the largest in the sport’s history, for its newest event.

World Athletics has been quite busy lately. After enduring pushback from the International Olympic Committee and some national federations and Olympic committees because of its athlete empowerment initiative back in April, it also unveiled last week that some strategic changes were forthcoming regarding innovation to expand its global reach with more dynamic sporting events.

But no changes ring louder than economic shifts like the one that was most recently made public, especially if they are record-setting ones. The just announced World Athletics Ultimate Championship would be a “platform for athletes to promote their own sponsors, create their own content and increase off-track income,” the association said, while Coe specified that “every athlete competing at the event would be paid” and explained that World Athletics is “also under pressure to innovate.”

After centring its Pioneering Change strategy focus on delivering faster and more exciting events to increase TV viewership and stadium attendance and promoting athlete engagement on social media and technical advancements for the sporting community, the newly-announced World Athletics Ultimate Championship would take place over three days, in a format designed to expand the global appeal of athletics. The inaugural event is set to take place in mid-September 2026 and should bring about 400 athletes from 70 countries to Budapest.

The Hungarian capital was announced as the inaugural host city for what the global organisation called a “groundbreaking new global championship event set to transform the athletics calendar and define which athlete is the best of the best – pitting world champions, Olympic champions, the Wanda Diamond League winners and the year’s best performing athletes against each other, to crown the ultimate champion.”

World Athletics detailed that a record-setting prize pot of $10 million, the largest ever offered in the history of track & field, would be allotted to the competition, with gold medallists set to receive $150,000. Coe’s association was the first one to announce it would play athletes in Paris 2024, while the International Boxing Association has also long campaigned to empower its boxers with financial compensation and announced plans to do the same at the upcoming Games, despite not being currently recognised by the IOC. Track & field athletes will also benefit from greater promotional rights, allowing them to commercially activate and enhance their personal profiles with this new format, according to organisers.

Coincidentally, the World Athletics Championships should face competition from the other new track league created by former US sprinter Michael Johnson, an “attempt to introduce another high-impact competition outside the quadrennial Olympics and biennial World Athletics Championships” for 2025, according to the four-time Olympic champion in the 200 and 400 metres.

The innovative Ultimate Championship by World Athletics is scheduled to send off the summer athletics season and potentially add another top event to World Athletics’ calendar with the intention is to hold the event every two years, meaning the second edition would take place after the 2028 L.A. Olympics.

“Designed as the ultimate season finale with an aim to captivate millions of television viewers worldwide, the global championship event will feature a thrilling and fast-moving new format for athletics. Taking place over three evening sessions, each under three hours in duration, the Ultimate Championship will showcase the best of athletics, including sprints, middle and long-distance races, relays, jumps, and throws, ensuring a spectacle that both existing and new fans will not want to miss. Athletes will represent their national teams to ensure that individual success is underpinned by national pride”, the association detailed in a statement.

From eight to 16 of the world's top-ranked athletes will represent the pinnacle of global track & field talent. “Staging the Ultimate Championship will be a great chance to prove again that Budapest is truly one of global sport’s capital cities,” said Balázs Furjes, IOC member for Hungary and previous co-leader of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 organising committee.

World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon underlined that “by embracing innovation and breaking away from traditional models, we are looking to reach a broader audience, particularly younger fans, and elevate the entire sport.” The move, in a way, mirrors recent efforts by the IOC to engage younger audiences, as with some of the new sports included in the Olympic programme and some Olympic Qualyfing events across the globe.  

“With only the best of the best on show and cutting straight to semi-finals and finals, we will create an immediate pressure to perform for athletes aiming to claim the title of the ultimate champion,” Seb Coe insisted. “The World Athletics Ultimate Championship will be high on action and excitement for fans, setting a new standard for track and field events. Featuring athletics’ biggest stars, it will be a must-watch global sports event and means track and field will host a major global championship in every single year, ensuring for the first time that athletics will enjoy a moment of maximum audience reach on an annual basis.”

Ridgeon emphasised that there will be a strong focus on television audiences, with an aim to reach the biggest global number possible “so we are looking at what new competition innovations can be introduced, all of which will be thoroughly tested in advance. We truly believe this will be a game changer for our entire sport.”

With the Olympics less than two months days away and so much at stake, not only for World Athletics, many are betting on it.