Seb Coe unveils $10m ‘ultimate championships’ to be athletics’ answer to the Super Bowl

A new “ultimate championship” of athletics has been launched with a record-breaking $10 million (£7.86 million) prize pot that Sebastian Coe hopes will be comparable to iconic sporting occasions like Wimbledon, the Masters and the Super Bowl.

To be held biennially, the new World Athletics Ultimate Championship will begin in Budapest in Sep 2026 when 400 of the greatest track and field stars will compete for first prizes of $150,000 (£118,000).

New or modified events, including a long jump with a take-off zone rather than a board, a mixed 4×100 metres relay and a 1500 metres steeplechase, could feature in what will be a three-nightly competition lasting no more than three hours per session.

“It will sit alongside our other championships with absolutely the same status,” said Coe, the World Athletics president. “This is designed for television; it is designed to attract what we call big eventers, who want to be able to see this in the same way that they would see the Masters, or Wimbledon or the Super Bowl and we want this to be in athletics.”

Gold medallists at last year’s World Athletics Championships received $70,000 (£55,000) and, having already made athletics the first sport to offer prize money at this summer’s Olympics ($50,000 per gold), Coe stressed the importance of financial rewards.

The money will largely come from the host city, as well as broadcasters and sponsors, and Coe has already held talks with Saudi Arabia about potentially adding athletics to the increasing number of sports it has financially transformed.

It means that every track and field athletics season will now finish in September with either the World Championships or the new World Ultimate Championship, which will be staged in even-ending years and so also follow each Olympic Games by around five weeks.

“We are unashamed about the prize pot – I want the athletes to feel that there is a trajectory,” said Coe. “I am determined that we provide opportunities to raise the profile of the athletes and to give them greater financial security. It means track and field will host a major global championship in every single year.

“If you look at the prize money in 2028 (an Olympic year), there is a good chance our top athletes will start getting into a world that I think is reflective of what they are doing. We have to have athletes, particularly those that may have other sports that they are deciding upon, that see a clear route through to some sort of financial viability.

Of hosting events in Saudi Arabia, Coe: “We’ve had conversations. I am sure in the future they will be a strong candidate.”

Ultimate Championship fields will be stripped back to between eight and 16 participants per event, with selections based primarily on world rankings. There will be straight semi-finals and finals on the track and immediate finals in all field events.

While final details have not been decided, there is likely to be considerable innovation although what Coe called “marquee” sprint, middle-distance and endurance races will remain as well as throwing, jumping and relay events.

Despite an initial backlash at the concept, Coe said that there had been “quite successful” trials in recent weeks for the proposed new long jump format.

News of the new event comes amid ongoing uncertainty over whether the European Championships, which start this Friday, will be shown on television in the UK. BBC were still in talks with the European Broadcast Union on Monday, although there was an expectation inside British Athletics that an agreement would be reached.

The British squad was also weakened on Monday by the decision of potential gold medallists Zharnel Hughes and Matthew Hudson-Smith to withdraw from the European Championships. Hughes won a World Championship bronze medal last year in the 100 metres while Hudson-Smith broke the European 400 metres record last week.

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