Jun 07 2010
Many of you will be aware of some of the changes that have recently been made by WTC to it’s rules and regulations. Some of these alterations will (and have had) a large affect upon pro athletes. Some policies are to be applauded. Particularly the move to develop a drug testing protocol within our sport, a positive move to ensure a level playing field for all. It may be argued that some changes may have more of a negative affect on the sport. For example, new rules on prize money distributions. A small group of pro athletes have been in regular conversation with each other and with WTC in order that we come to fully understand the policies, and to highlight how we feel they will impact upon us and the development of our sport. More importantly, we have sought to improve the communication links between WTC and the athletes as many of these changes have simply “happened” with little or no dialogue and have been circulated down the grape vine. Chrissie has eloquently summarized many of our thoughts in an editorial that was published in the June issue of Triathlon220 magazine in the UK. The text of this article is reproduced here with her blessing and is fully endorsed by yours truly.
As a professional athlete I feel the need to voice my opinion on the new policy changes that have recently been instigated by the company with the monopoly over long-distance triathlon – the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). While the new policies are focused on professional athletes I think it’s important for me, as World Champion, to articulate my views and encourage everyone involved in triathlon to take an interest in how our sport is being run.
The WTC’s new polices and rules can be found at www.ironmanusa.com, but briefly are as follows: pros wishing to do Ironman or 70.3 races must register with the WTC’s Professional Membership Program. The cost is US$750. This provides free entry to all of the WTC’s Ironman and 70.3 races (aside from the Ironman and 70.3 World Champs where athletes still have to pay the entry fee), as well as membership to the new WTC anti-doping programme. In addition, significant changes have been made to prize money payment and the distribution of pro slots for the World Championships.
The new ruling states that athletes must now finish within 8% of the winner’s time to win money (not 10% of second place as before), with any ‘un-won’ prize money being redistributed between the prize-winning men and women. So, for example, say the third to 10th place women don’t win anything then the rest of the women’s money will go to the first two women. In addition, pros must finish within 5% of the winner’s time to qualify for the World Championships.
Communication is key
I should précis this with a caveat. While I have, of course, spoken at length to many of my peers, the views herein are mine and mine alone – I cannot speak for everyone, but I do hope that by opening up this wormy, WTC can, I will encourage more dialogue and discussion on this important subject.
The first key issue that needs to be addressed relates to the information and communication (or lack thereof) from the WTC regarding the new policies. The majority of pros have found out about recent rule changes from Facebook, Twitter, forums and athletes’ blogs. The changes are significant and will have a big impact on both existing and future pros, and the athletes have a right to know about the changes that will affect their career so that they can make informed and considered decisions. A quick search of ironman.com yields nothing. Instead it is to be found on ironmanusa.com. I know nothing of this site and who it is run by, and why global rules have been published on a site whose name suggests a US focus.
One means of facilitating better information exchange and dissemination would be to create a mechanism for athlete representation including, perhaps, a seat for a small number of athletes on the WTC committee. For example, each country has an athlete representative on the ITU committee. Perhaps we could have something similar, as well as a mechanism for consultation between athletes, such as a secure discussion site on ironman.com.
I applaud the fact that the WTC is actively addressing the issue of doping in triathlon and that our licence fees will, as I understand it, go towards supporting the new anti-doping programme. And yes, I do think that the pros should contribute towards some of the cost of these measures.
Key is that there is an improvement in procedures/protocol on the ground, with in- and out-of-competition testing (blood and urine) as well as coordination between the different testing bodies, to avoid duplication of resources. I haven’t raced a WTC event in 2010 so I can’t comment on changes or otherwise with in-competition testing. But I have had three urine and two blood tests this year – all commissioned by UK Anti Doping (through British Triathlon), not the WTC.
It’s vital that athletes within the WTC’s testing pool are actually tested out of competition, as well as all prize money-winning athletes (as a minimum) tested in competition. The pros should also receive adequate training and education about the anti-doping programme.
Regarding the licence itself, I know a number of athletes who have decided against racing WTC events due to its cost. For many, the costs are further compounded when an athlete is required to pay twice, for example for a pro licence in their own country (which often includes drug testing) as well as the WTC licence. In addition to the $750 fee, Active.com charge a further $35. Why is this additional fee added and where does that $35 go? The risk is that the initial licence outlay will discourage potential pros from racing WTC events, or even ITU athletes from trying their hand at the longer distance. This would serve to weaken pro fields, rather than strengthen them.
Furthermore, athletes will still have to pay entry to race the World Champs (US$500 for Kona). I would be interested to know whether pro golfers have to pay to play at the Masters, or tennis players at the Grand Slams. We have qualified as professionals. Perhaps entry should be free, especially given the amount of discretionary slots that are given out and the media, publicity and sponsor interest that the pros attract. (I do, of course, appreciate that age-groupers are charged entry and I would not want to see them bear any additional costs to offset the pro places.)
Another point about the licence relates to the term ‘professional’ athlete. Clearly each country has different definitions of what constitutes a pro, and hence who is granted a national pro licence. The WTC has said that it will respect the national federation’s decisions regarding who is and isn’t ‘a pro’. But if the aim is to achieve standardisation, shouldn’t we have one set of criteria by which an athlete is deemed to be a pro or not?
There are pros and cons to the new prize money rule and these will vary from athlete to athlete, particularly depending on what stage you’re at in your career. The most important thing is that the changes have a goal, and that that goal is carefully articulated. Yes we need standards. And yes we need cut-off times for payment of prize money and yes, the field at Kona and Clearwater should be full of the world’s best.
But I would like to know why the WTC settled on the 8% (and 5% for the World Champ slot) figure, and see the data analysis that was undertaken. Had these rules been in place in the past few years, what would have been the impact? According to research that I’ve seen, under the new ruling Lisbeth Kristensen would have missed out on her slot entirely, and not gone on to finish seventh in 2004, while Sandra Wallenhorst and Tereza Macel would not have been paid for their ninth and 10th places at Kona last year. Is this the strengthening and streamlining of the pro ranks that we want to see?
Becoming, and being, a pro athlete is an investment. Athletes must be prepared to invest time and money into personal development – and accept that they may not make money initially or even at all.
But these rule changes may see fewer athletes testing the waters as a professional. In addition, ‘slower’ pros might avoid WTC races where fast athletes are racing for fear that they won’t get paid: stifling competition not enhancing it. Some WTC Ironman events only have five or six pro women racing. Don’t we want to increase this number rather than limit it by restricting who can win prize money? Yes it may mean that sometimes ‘slower’ athletes get paid, but these athletes may invest this money in their own development and go on to be World Champs.
On the plus side, I think the recent changes will help to promote the growth of non-WTC races, such as REV3, Challenge, TriStar and TriGrandPrix series. Many of these are attracting large, high-quality fields. Not necessarily because of the sizeable first-place prize money, but because of the prize money that they pay those who come eighth, ninth, 10th and so on. And because of the excellent pre- and post-race athlete support.
I am all for change. Continuous improvement is crucial if triathlon is to become a majority sport, in terms of media and corporate interest. But we need to ensure that the rule changes are carefully thought through and communicated to the athletes, professionals and age-groupers alike. We are all in this together, and we all have a role to play in making sure we nurture existing and future athletes to ensure triathlon goes from strength to strength.