Illustration: Shyam G Menon

World Athletics will lift the suspension of the Tokyo Olympic qualification system for the marathon and race walk events from September 1, 2020.

This follows concerns over the lack of qualifying opportunities that may be available for road athletes before the qualification period finishes on May 31, 2021, an official statement dated July 28, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said.

The original suspension period, from April 6 to November 30, 2020, was introduced due to the competition and training disruption caused by the global pandemic, and remains in place for all other track and field events. “ Road athletes will be able to register Olympic qualifying entry standards from September 1 to November 30, but only in pre-identified, advertised and authorised races being staged on World Athletics certified courses, with in-competition drug testing on site,’’ the statement said. The accrual of points for world rankings and the automatic qualification through Gold Label marathons /Platinum Label marathons remains suspended until November 30, 2020.

According to the statement, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe noted that it had become apparent that marathon and race walk athletes may have very limited opportunities to register Olympic qualifying times in 2021 due to the uncertainty around staging mass participation events over the next year given these events  rely heavily on cities around the world agreeing to stage them. The statement quoted Coe, “ Most of the major marathons have already been cancelled or postponed for the remainder of this year and the evolution of the pandemic makes it difficult to predict if those scheduled for the first half of next year will be able to go ahead. That situation, combined with the fact that endurance athletes in the marathon and race walks can only produce a very limited number of high-quality performances a year, would really narrow their qualifying window without this adjustment. We have also been assured by the Athletics Integrity Unit that the anti-doping system is capable of protecting the integrity of road races during this period and will put in place strict testing criteria for all athletes.”

The Virgin Money London Marathon, due to take place on October 4, is committed to working with World Athletics to promote this opportunity to athletes around the world and to assist with their travel challenges so they can participate in London and achieve their Olympic qualifying time, the statement said. World Athletics will also work with the ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon to see if they can offer similar opportunities. In addition, World Athletics expects there will be at least two major race walking events staged between September 1 and November 30, 2020.

Both the Athletes’ Commission and Competition Commission were consulted prior to this decision and approved the proposal. The Athletes’ Commission noted that this decision does not assist all athletes, given the travel restrictions still imposed by some countries, but will support the majority of road athletes in the particularly difficult circumstances they face to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games. In making the decision, the World Athletics Council also noted that the conditions for making the Olympic standards at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 were challenging for road event athletes whereas the conditions for in-stadium events were excellent as the results showed.

“ World Athletics will also work with its Member Federations and meeting organisers to ensure that there are sufficient pre-Olympic competition opportunities for all track and field disciplines, particularly those that traditionally have fewer meeting opportunities, from December 1, 2020 onwards,’’ the statement said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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