Gateshead will host the opening Diamond League fixture next month as international athletics makes a long-awaited return to the International Stadium.
The shock announcement came after Gateshead was offered as a last-minute replacement for the Müller Grand Prix on May 23 after Rabat, which was due to host the opening Diamond League fixture on the same date, was no longer able to hold the event.
UK Athletics made the offer to Diamond League who were looking for an alternate host. It means the fixture, which is an important marker in the road to Tokyo for many athletes internationally, will be retained on the international athletics calendar.
It is a huge boost for athletics in the North East, with Gateshead having initially been scheduled to host Diamond League meetings in 2020 and late 2021, only for those to be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.
UK Athletics CEO Joanna Coates said: "We know our athletes need more opportunities to compete at a high level this year and that Covid-19 has been a challenge for us all. Even with exemptions for elite sport many athletes do not wish to take the additional risk of contracting the virus so close to the Games.
"Compared to many nations the UK offers a lower risk option for athletes right now with the success of the UK vaccination programme and the progress on the government roadmap. With the Müller Grand Prix Gateshead, the Müller British Championships in Manchester and the Müller Anniversary Games in the London Stadium – as well as the number of high-class events being staged by independent organisers – this will support athletes to achieve their goals this summer, whether that is Tokyo or the start of their journey towards Birmingham 2022.
"Our thanks go to Gateshead Council who have stepped up very quickly to make this possible. The North East has such a great history of hosting world class athletics and it's great to be returning there. We hope the event can be a cause for celebration with the region playing a pivotal role in preparing our athletes for success this summer and kick starting our major events season."
Gateshead hosted the first Diamond League event to take place in the UK 11 years ago as Phillips Idowu won the men’s triple jump, future Olympic champions Eliud Kipchoge and Mo Farah contested the 5000m and Tyson Gay beat Asafa Powell in the 100m.
Powell went on to equal the 100m world record at Gateshead in 2006 in a time of 9.77, while the women’s pole vault world record has been broken three times at the stadium, by Daniela Bartova in 1995 and then twice by Yelena Isinbayeva, in 2003 and 2004.
Gateshead is the only venue to have held the European Athletics Team Championships on three occasions – in 1989, 2000 and 2013.
The most recent major event to be held at the International Stadium was the European Team Championships eight years ago.
Sheena Ramsey, chief executive at Gateshead Council, said: "Owing to the pandemic, we were unfortunately unable to host international athletics in 2020, however we hope that the launch of the series here in the North East, will kick start the much-needed regional recovery from COVID-19 and the devastating impact it has had upon all of our lives.
"Gateshead has a rich sporting heritage and the return of the Diamond League series is very much welcomed. We look forward to working with UK Athletics, regional partners and neighbouring local authorities to take full advantage of the return of international athletics to the region. We see this as the first step towards our shared ambition to host the 2026 European Championships and welcome the opportunity to support Team GB ahead of the Olympics."
The event will be managed in line with government guidelines and competing athletes will be subject to tests prior to travel and upon arrival. A secure event bubble will be constructed around the venue, accommodation, and transport.
And with the next government roadmap scheduled for 17 May, it is hoped that there will be an opportunity for spectators to attend.