After Croatian plans to stage this winter’s big event collapse, the search for a replacement venue nears its conclusion

The 2024 World Cross Country Championships is looking for a new home after Croatia was forced to abandon plans to stage next year’s event in Medulin and Pula amid accusations from World Athletics that “preparations have not advanced sufficiently”.

The global governing body say they are in advance negotiations with a replacement host in Europe. Finding an alternative venue probably wasn’t easy, though, given that the event has earned a reputation in recent years as the unwanted child of World Athletics.

The last time Britain staged the event was in 2008 when Holyrood Park in Edinburgh proved a fine setting. However some of the host country’s top athletes like Mo Farah chose not to compete and even the UKA performance director at the time did not turn up.

In 2009 the event moved to Amman in Jordan with athletes racing on a course that I described in AW as “resembling a building site” and where the only grass was in the home straight.

From that dust-up in the desert the World Cross moved to Bydgoszcz in both 2010 and 2013 as the Polish city staged it twice in the space of three years largely due to lack of interest from anyone else in hosting it. Sandwiched in between was a sun-drenched event in Punta Umbria in Spain in 2011 before it moved to the far-flung location of Guiyang in China in 2015.

By this stage there were regular calls to “save the World Cross” with many European teams effectively boycotting it and after lively 2017 event in Kampala, which is best remembered for Joshua Cheptegei imploding in the men’s race, the event was truly revitalised in Aarhus in 2019 with an imaginative course that included athletes running up the roof of an eco-museum.

World Cross in Aarhus in 2019

After being delayed due to the pandemic, Bathurst in Australia took up the baton and held a good championships with a number of “features” on the course designed to test athletes and entertain spectators.

In 2026 the event is due to be staged in Tallahassee in the United States, but the 2024 meeting now has a question mark over it.

At least the new 2024 host will have a few months to prepare. In 2001 the World Cross was due to be held in Dublin but the hosts had to pull out (eventually hosting the event in 2002 instead) due to foot-and-mouth disease. Belgium came to the rescue with firstly Brussels and then Ostend offering to stage the meeting off just three weeks’ notice.

Paula Radcliffe battles through the Ostend mud in 2001 (Getty)

The 2024 event was due to be held on February 10 but is now likely to be in March. World Athletics has been trying to drag the championships back into February so that it doesn’t clash with the spring road racing season, but those plans will have to wait now until Tallahassee 2026.

The British trials are due to be staged on January 20 at a Night of the 10,000m-style meeting on Parliament Hill. But for athletes who earn selection, where will they be heading?

British athletics fans would love the event to come to London, Cardiff or Edinburgh. Dublin is another popular choice of venue. Logically, one of the recent hosts of the European Cross Country Champs might step up to stage the global event too.

Great Edinburgh XC (Mark Shearman)

You can probably rule out this year’s Euro Cross host, Brussels, but how about Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, Slovakia, France, Bulgaria or Serbia – all hosts of the Euro Cross in the past decade?

We await World Athletics’ verdict with interest. One thing for sure, though, is that their evaluation teams are renowned for being forensic and challenging when it comes to keeping tabs on a host’s preparations, but the governing body will surely have thought long and hard before taking the event away from Croatia.

Cancelling a World Championships is not the kind of decision made on a whim.

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