LANE ONE: World Athletics Council agrees to allow Russian “neutral” athletes to compete in 2021; Continental Tour up to 85 meets in ‘21

World Athletics President Seb Coe (GBR) and chief executive Jon Ridgeon (GBR) during Thursday's news conference (Sorry, that's good as the online resolution got)

On its second of two days of online meetings, the World Athletics Council acted on the latest update from its Russia Task Force, chaired by Norwegian Rune Andersen:

“Council has accepted the Task Forde’s recommendation to allow Authorized Neutral Athletes to start competing again in international competitions, subject to a cap of 10 for the Olympic Games and for any World Athletics Series events. As a result of that decision, the Doping Review Board will start accepting applications for ANA status immediately.

“Council was clear that the ANA program depends on RusAF continuing to meet all the milestones for the implementation set up in the reinstatement plan. Subject to that, however, Russian athletes who can meet the specified criteria will be able to compete again, on a neutral basis, in international competitions.”

That means the three-member Doping Review Panel will begin receiving applications immediately, with a limit of 10 ANA athletes from Russia allowed to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games and other World Athletics Series events in 2021. At least some approvals can be expected before the Diamond League meets begin in May.

Andersen noted that there are a lot of moving parts to the entire Russian status question:

“In my report to the World Athletics Council this afternoon, I confirmed that [the Russian Athletics Federation] has commenced to start the reinstatement plan that Council approved on 1st March. That plan was created by the RusAF Reinstatement Commission, with the support of international experts, and signed off by the Russia Task Force.

“I emphasized in my report, and Council members clearly agreed, that getting the plan into place is just the start, and it won’t mean anything until RusAF now carefully and consistently completes all of the enormous work that is required to implement the plan. And to begin the change in culture in athletics that it desperately needs.

“The President was clear that he wants the Task Force to monitor that work carefully and to report back to Council immediately if the expected progress is not achieved. The Task Force is well equipped to do this because the plan includes a detailed roadmap for implementation including detailed KPIs and milestones for each objective, and set deadlines to complete different tasks.

“In addition, we now have international experts on the ground in Russia, to act as our eyes and ears and to report back immediately if the plan is not being implemented as RusAF has promised.”

Andersen promised that if the Russian federation does not meet the numerous deadline and requirements of the plan, the Task Force will report this to the Council for potential future action.

But for now, this is good news for especially women’s high jump superstar Mariya Lasitskene and vaulter Anzhelika Sidorova, both of whom are reigning World Champions from Doha (QAT) in 2019. Former World Champion Sergey Shubenkov, the 2019 Worlds silver medalist in the 110 m hurdles, will now also be a contender for a medal this summer. Russia also won the silver and bronze medals in the men’s high jump in Doha, with Mikhail Akimenko and Ilya Ivanyuk, both of whom are also expected to apply for ANA status.

World Athletics has been the most demanding of all the federations in dealing with the Russian doping scandals, limiting Russia to one athlete in Rio in 2016 and now a maximum of 10 for Tokyo in 2021.

In what may have been its first-ever live-streamed news conference, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe (GBR) emphasized the important of the return to competition and especially the growth of the World Athletics Continental Tour:

“We have a lot of new events, a lot of new cities coming onstream for our Continental Tour. Last year we had 29 events, this year, we’ll have 85, and this really has done what I wanted to do at the beginning of my term, which was really to breathe new, fresh life if you like into our one-day events.

“We have a lot of Council colleagues that owe their status in the sport to one-day events and I’m particularly pleased that 12 of them are going to be in the U.S.A., three of them are at Gold level. Montreal has a Bronze-level Continental Tour; that’s the first new athletics event in Canada this century. We’ve got a second Continental Tour event in Africa that will sit alongside the Nairobi event; in Oceania, we’ve gone from two to five events, and in Guyana, our CONSUDATLE – the South American federation, we’ve extended the footprint: we have an event there.”

World Athletics chief executive Jon Ridgeon (GBR) added:

“[W]hat’s so encouraging … is, that certainly if you look over the last 20-30 years, there’s been a slight reduction every year in the amount of one-day meetings … and it’s great to see, particularly for the Continental Tour, that that process is now reversing and it’s not just reversing in the traditional heartland of strong competition, which is Europe, it’s reversing all the way across the world.”

The Continental Tour just inhaled the USA Track & Field “Journey to Gold” series into its schedule on Wednesday (17th), including the three above-mentioned Gold level meets:

24 April: USATF Grand Prix, at a site to be announced
09 May: USATF Golden Games, at Walnut, California
23 May: adidas Boost Boston Games, at Boston, Massachusetts

The Drake Relays on 24 April will be a Silver level meet, along with five other meets, and there will be three Bronze level events.

Ridgeon noted:

“The athletes are going to have more competition this summer than they have had before, there’s going to have more opportunities to earn a living than before and fans are going to have more opportunity around the world to see more competitions.”

The added competitions are being welcomed already, although the opportunity to “earn a living” in these meets is limited. The regulations stipulate that prize money in Continental Tour meets is:

Gold: Minimum 12 events; $200,000 total prize purse, with $20,000 for core events ($6,000-4,500-3,000-2,000-1,500-1,200-1,000-800) or $10,000 for other events ($3,000-2,250-1,500-1,000-750-600-500-400).

Silver: Minimum 12 events; $75,000 total prize purse, with $5,000 per event: $1,600-1,200-900-600-400-300.

Bronze: Minimum 12 events, $25,000 total prize money in the meet (no per-event minimums.

These are, of course, far less than the Diamond League prize distribution of $25,000 per event for each event in each of the 13 meets in 2021, with more for the Diamond League Final.

On Tuesday, the first World Athletics Road Running Championships for 2023 has drawn interest from 12 cities worldwide. The cities (or countries) were not named, but the selection will be made in July. The World Half Marathon Championships and World 5 km Championships will be held, along with public-participation events, an expo, clinics and many other programs.

Asked about including a road mile championship, Coe admitted that as a former world-record holder in the event, he’s completely biased in any such discussion. Ridgeon, a former hurdles, liked the idea, but said it would be up to the eventual host organizer to decide whether to include it.

This is a potentially major new event for the sport, so look for a European host for 2023 (Copenhagen, perhaps?) and then a move to a North American city after that.

Rich Perelman

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