AT A GLANCE / OCTOBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

New world records ratified

The new world records set in early September by Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) and Mo Farah (UK), have been ratified, World Athletics informed in a statement dated October 12, 2020, available on their website.

“ Jepchirchir’s 1:05:34 women-only world half marathon record and the one-hour world records from Hassan (18,930m) and Mo Farah (21,330m) are now official,’’ the statement said. Jepchirchir had produced her record-breaking run on September 5, 2020 at the Prague 21.1KM, an invitational-only elite half marathon held on a 16.5-lap course in Letna Park in the Czech capital. Hassan and Farah stormed into the record books at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels on September 4, the night before Jepchirchir’s race in Prague.

These records fall in the category of sterling performances reported amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled mass participation events and upset the staging schedule of competitions worldwide. The first major world record in athletics, in this context, was Joshua Cheptegei’s new mark in the 5000 meters track race for men, set on August 14, 2020. The Ugandan athlete covered the distance in 12:35:36. In October, Cheptegei rewrote the time taken for the track based-10,000 meters, when he set a new world record of 26:11:00. At the same event in Valencia, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in the 5000 meters for women, completing the race in 14:06:62.

Pocket Outdoor Media Acquires Big Stone Publishing

Outdoor enthusiasts, climbers and those into endurance sports in India would be familiar with publications like Climbing, Rock and Ice, Backpacker, Trail Runner and VeloNews. A recent acquisition in the publishing world has brought these titles under one roof.

Early October 2020, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) announced its takeover of Big Stone Publishing (BSP). Both companies are based in the US. POM has in its fold titles like Climbing, Backpacker, Women’s Running, Triathlete, Yoga Journal, Clean Eating, VeloNews and SKI. BSP’s list of publications included Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, ASCENT, Gym Climber and Dirt.

In a related statement available on the website of POM, its CEO Robin Thurston has said, “ this acquisition significantly strengthens our ability to engage with outdoor enthusiasts across all of the seasons and sports that live at the intersection of adrenaline and adventure. By merging Rock & Ice into Climbing, we’ll be better positioned to deliver exceptional content and cover all of the sport’s disciplines—trad, sport, gym, and alpine climbing—in ways not possible before. Similarly, Trail Runner broadens our running portfolio, adding the dominant title in the sport’s fastest-growing discipline.”

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

AT A GLANCE / SEPTEMBER 2020

Caster Semenya (This photo was downloaded from the athlete’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose only. No copyright infringement intended)

Caster Semenya case: Swiss apex court supports earlier CAS ruling

South African Olympic champion Caster Semenya, saw her options shrink further as Switzerland’s top court ruled in favor of the regulations that bar her from continued participation in certain race categories for women. The ruling, early September 2020, may have shut the doors on her defending her title in the 800 meters at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Semenya has a rare genetic condition that significantly elevates her testosterone level. It made her participation in the female category at races, controversial. World Athletics had decided in 2018 that intersex athletes with disorder in sexual development and having both X and Y chromosomes would require lowering their testosterone levels to compete in women’s events ranging from quarter mile to a mile, distances demanding both speed and endurance. Semenya had challenged such reduction requiring intake of medicines. In 2019 after the Switzerland based-Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in favor of the restrictions, Semenya had approached the Swiss Supreme Court.  Early September, 2020 the Court said that CAS had the right to rule as it did.

In a press release dated September 8, 2020, available on its website, World Athletics said, “ for the last five years World Athletics (formerly IAAF) has fought for and defended equal rights and opportunities for all women and girls in our sport today and in the future. We therefore welcome today’s decision by the Swiss Federal Tribunal (SFT) to uphold our DSD Regulations as a legitimate and proportionate means of protecting the right of all female athletes to participate in our sport on fair and meaningful terms.’’

It added, “ World Athletics fully respects each individual’s personal dignity and supports the social movement to have people accepted in society based on their chosen legal sex and/or gender identity. As the SFT specifically recognised, however, the DSD Regulations are not about challenging an individual’s gender identity, but rather about protecting fair competition for all female athletes. The Swiss Federal Tribunal acknowledged that innate characteristics can distort the fairness of competitions, noted that in sport several categories (such as weight categories) have been created based on biometric data, and confirmed that ‘It is above all up to the sports federations to determine to what extent a particular physical advantage is likely to distort competition and, if necessary, to introduce legally admissible eligibility rules to remedy this state of affairs.’

“ The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) agreed with World Athletics in its 30 April 2019 award and now the SFT has also agreed that ‘In some contexts, such as competitive sport, biological characteristics may, exceptionally and for the purposes of fairness and equal opportunity, trump a person’s legal sex or gender identity’.

“ The SFT concluded: “Based on these findings, the CAS decision cannot be challenged. Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based. The European Court of Human Rights also attaches particular importance to the aspect of fair competition. In addition to this significant public interest, the CAS rightly considered the other relevant interests, namely the private interests of the female athletes running in the ‘women’ category.’’

Semenya has said that she will continue to fight against the restrictions. In a statement from her published in the report by New York Times (dated September 8, 2020) on the latest update to her case, Semenya says, “ I am very disappointed by this ruling, but refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am. Excluding female athletes or endangering our health solely because of our natural abilities puts World Athletics on the wrong side of history.”  The report in the New York Times pointed out that Semenya’s supporters include the World Medical Association (WMA), which has requested doctors not to implement the World Athletics regulations. WMA has questioned the ethics and potential harm in requiring athletes to take hormone therapy not based on medical need.“  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called for the regulations to be revoked. Human Rights Watch has called the regulations “stigmatizing, stereotyping and discriminatory,” saying they amount to “policing of women’s bodies on the basis of arbitrary definitions of femininity and racial stereotypes,” – the report said.

AFI seeks priority for Olympics-bound athletes in vaccination plan

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has sought priority for Olympics-bound athletes in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

According to a report from Press Trust of India, published September 16, 2020 in leading dailies, discussions in this regard have already happened. “ We have already discussed this with the government and told them we will need it (vaccine) for our athletes going to the Olympics,” AFI President Adille Sumariwalla was quoted as saying in the report “ We need to make sure once the vaccine comes out, they (Olympic-bound athletes) should be amongst the first batches to get it and the discussion regarding that has already happened,” he added. The AFI chief was speaking at a webinar.

Duplantis vaults past Bubka’s record

Swedish athlete Armand Duplantis has broken Sergey Bubka’s longstanding outdoor world record in the pole vault.

A report dated September 18, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said that he cleared 6.15 meters at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome, a day earlier.

According to it, in February this year, Duplantis had set world records of 6.17m and 6.18m on the World Indoor Tour. “ But no one had ever jumped higher than 6.14m in an outdoor stadium. Sergey Bubka’s 6.14m monument from 1994 had stood inviolate for 26 years, but it has been under siege from Duplantis this season,’’ the report said, adding, “ before last night, he had taken 13 attempts at 6.15m after cutting a swathe through the world’s best pole vaulters in this short, sharp competition season.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Boston Marathon organizers postpone registrations for 2021

Boston Athletic Association (BAA), organizers of the Boston Marathon, has announced that registration for the 2021 Boston Marathon will not take place in September.  The registration process has been postponed, BAA said in a statement dated September 3, 2020, available on its website.

Every year, registrations for Boston Marathon open in September of the previous year. According to Tom Grilk, CEO, BAA, COVID-19 has affected mass participation road races in ways that could never have been imagined. “ September is usually a time for the BAA to begin opening registration for April’s Boston Marathon and planning for an already established field size. We know, however, that we cannot open registration until we have a better understanding of where the virus may be in the spring,” he was quoted as saying.

To guide it on the path ahead, BAA has formed a COVID-19 Medical & Event Operations Advisory Group consisting of medical, public safety, and race operations experts, as well as city and state officials.

“ The Medical & Event Operations Advisory Group will recommend strategies that address the health and safety of participants, volunteers, staff, and community members. Recommendations will be developed in accordance with the most current guidelines issued for large-scale events by the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control. The group will develop framework for the B.A.A. that addresses risk factors specific to the Boston Marathon including size and other local and international considerations for the pandemic. Outcomes, including an updated registration timeline for the 125th Boston Marathon, will be shared,’’ the related statement available on the race website said.

“ We seek to determine with some specificity how and when large-scale road running events organized by the B.A.A. may be able to reasonably resume, while also providing input on which operational aspects will change as events are organized and managed,” Dr. Aaron Baggish, Co-Medical Director for the BAA and Boston Marathon, Director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, and co-chair of the advisory group, was quoted as saying.

Boston Marathon is usually held on Patriots’ Day, which falls on April 19 in 2021.

This year’s, Boston Marathon was cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be held in virtual format.

World Athletics road running season restarts

World Athletics’ 2020 road running season will recommence this month backed by a strong anti-doping program. However, the race calendar is subject to changes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a press release dated September 1, 2020, available on the website of the apex body overseeing athletics globally, “ the schedule begins with the Vidovdanska Trka 10km (Bronze Label) on 6 September and still features the Virgin Money London Marathon (Platinum Label) on 4 October, the same day as the venerable Kosice Peace Marathon (Silver Label) in Slovakia, as well as a host of other Gold, Silver and Bronze events in various countries. This schedule does remain subject to change, due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the progress of the Coronavirus pandemic around the world.’’

The calendar for the rest of the year will be supported by a strong anti-doping program. “ Road athletes will be able to register Olympic qualifying entry standards from 1 September to 30 November, but only in preidentified, advertised and authorized races being staged on World Athletics certified courses, with in-competition drug testing on site. The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) has confirmed it will have appropriate anti-doping systems in place for all qualifying races,” the release said.

In late July, World Athletics had agreed to lift the suspension on the Tokyo Olympic qualifying process for the marathon and race walk events from 1 September 2020, due to concerns over the lack of qualifying opportunities that may be available for road athletes before the qualification period finishes on 31 May 2021. The original suspension period, from 6 April to 30 November 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. The accrual of points for world rankings and the automatic qualification through Gold label marathons / Platinum Label marathons remains suspended until 30 November 2020.

Last year, the AIU had reached an agreement with the Abbott World Marathon Majors wherein the organization agreed to provide additional funding for intelligence-led anti-doping investigation and testing program, which would allow the AIU to monitor a larger pool of elite road runners. The said program has been expanded this year with contributions from other key stakeholders of the road running community – the organizers of all Label races, athlete representatives and shoe companies. Three major shoe companies – ASICS, Adidas and Nike – have agreed to contribute to the AIU’s Road Running Integrity Programme, the release said.

The ongoing commitment of all these key stakeholders means that more than 300 Platinum and Gold Label athletes will be monitored and tested during the coming season. The AIU expects to be able to create individual intelligence profiles for all of these athletes this year, establishing baseline parameters for each athlete’s biological passport, ahead of target testing in 2021.

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

AT A GLANCE / AUGUST 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Sports functions of up to 100 persons allowed from September 21

Under guidelines for further relaxation of lockdown in areas outside containment zones, the central government in its order dated August 29, 2020 has allowed sports functions involving up to 100 persons, from September 21, 2020 onward.

“ Social / academic / sports / entertainment / cultural / religious / political functions and other congregations with a ceiling of 100 persons, will be permitted with effect from 21st September, 2020 with mandatory wearing of face masks, social distancing, provision for thermal scanning and hand wash or sanitizer,’’  one of the sub sections of the order said.

Swimming pools will however continue to remain closed.

AFI defers start of national competitions

The competition committee of Athletics Federation of India (AFI), at its meeting of August 28, 2020, decided to defer the start of national competitions.

According to a related press release, AFI had been hoping to resume competitions on September 12, 2020 with an AFI Grand Prix in Patiala. “ It would be advisable if the coaches redraw the training schedules of athletes. We are now looking at October end or early November for some competitions for seniors and late November for juniors,” AFI president, Adille J. Sumariwalla was quoted as saying. The National Open Athletics Championships, slated for September 20 to 24 and the Federation Cup, due from October 5 to 9, have also been postponed, the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Mumbai Ultra takes a break, organizes blood donation drive for Independence Day

Under normal circumstances, Independence Day would be the time for Mumbai’s annual rendezvous with the Mumbai Ultra. This year, the 12-hour run is taking a break due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and has organized instead a blood donation camp.

The camp will be held on August 15, 2020 at Veer Savarkar Smarak Bhavan, Shivaji Park, Mumbai, for a period of 12 hours from 8AM to 8PM.

“ We had to cancel this year’s ultra-running event because of the pandemic. As we have been associated with Tata Memorial Hospital for the past few years, I decided to call them and inform them about the cancellation. The director of the hospital spoke about the shortage of blood and asked us if we can organize a blood donation camp,” Naveen Hegde, one of the organizers of Mumbai Ultra, said.

The event’s organizing team then set about working on the logistics for the blood donation drive. Naveen expects around 500 people to come forward for donating blood. At the time of writing, over 450 people had registered to donate blood. Those seeking to register can get the relevant details on the event’s Facebook page.

If held, the 2020 edition of Mumbai Ultra would have been the seventh edition of the event.

Cancellation of the 2020 Ladakh Marathon now spans all race categories

The organizers of the Ladakh Marathon have confirmed that the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the event now spans all race categories.  On July 2, they had informed that the main Ladakh Marathon had been cancelled owing to COVID-19 but the two elite races in its fold – Khardung La Challenge and Silk Route Ultra – were under “ review” with a final decision expected by end-July.

A statement dated August 10, 2020, now available on the event’s website says that the cancellation includes Khardung La Challenge and Silk Route Ultra. “ The 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon scheduled for 10 – 13 September has been cancelled because of the COVID-19. All six races – Marathon, Half Marathon, 10 km, 5 km, 72 km ultra Khardungla Challenge and 122 km Silk Route Ultra stand cancelled for the year 2020.’’

It attributed the cancellation to the situation around COVID-19 and the India-China border tensions of the past few months. Ladakh is close to the international border. “ After undertaking a risk-assessment exercise a collective decision was taken to cancel the 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon as the well-being of our runners, the residents of Ladakh, our volunteers and staff remains our top priority,’’ the statement said, adding, “ all confirmed registrations for the 9th edition of the Ladakh Marathon have been automatically transferred for a period of two years to 2021-2022.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 Paris Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris has been cancelled.

“ After having tried everything to maintain the event, we, alongside the Ville de Paris, feel obliged to cancel the 2020 edition of the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris and the Paris Breakfast Run. Faced with the difficulty that many runners, especially those coming from abroad, had in making themselves available for the 14th / 15th November, it was decided that it would be better and simpler for those concerned if we organised the Schneider Electric Marathon de Paris in 2021,’’ an official statement dated August 12, 2020, available on the event website, said.

“ Those who were signed up for this year’s edition are, if they wish, already signed up for the 2021 edition. If not, they will benefit from a voucher, the value of which being equal to however much was spent on the bib and extra options or a reimbursement after a period of 18 months,’’ the statement said adding, “ we will be working side-by-side with the Ville de Paris to put on a 2021 edition that brings together the most passionate runners on the most beautiful streets in the world.’’

Reminder from World Athletics on the need to stick to shoe regulations

World Athletics has reminded that the recently introduced Rule 5 pertaining to the sole height of shoes will need to be adhered to if the results at national championships and domestic competitions are to be recognized by it.

“ As more athletes around the world return to the track for national championships, one-day meetings and other record-breaking attempts, World Athletics has issued a reminder to Area Associations and Member Federations today about the recently introduced Rule 5, governing competition shoes. The amended rule, which puts a sole height limit of 25mm on all shoes worn in track events of 800m and above in distance (including Steeplechase), came into force on 28 July 2020, when it was published. The rule does not prevent a road running shoe from being worn on the track but a 30mm or 40mm road running shoe cannot be worn for track events because of the 25mm limit. As this is a transition period, all results currently in the World Athletics database will be processed, but any result of an individual athlete who has worn non-compliant shoes for the race will be marked “Uncertified” (“TR5.5”). In the case of National Championships and other domestic competitions, for results to be validated and recognised by World Athletics for statistics purposes, such competitions must be held under World Athletics Technical Rules and Competition Rules. This means that Rule 5 of the Technical Rules must be applied in full for the competition results to be recognised by World Athletics as valid. To preserve the integrity of national records and statistics, the responsibility lies with the Member Federation to ensure that all athletes, officials and competition organisers are fully aware that Rule 5 of the Technical Rules will be applied in full. If a Member Federation or competition organiser permits an athlete to compete in non-compliant shoes, then the athlete’s individual results from the competition will be marked in World Athletics’ records and statistics as ‘Uncertified (‘TR5.5’) i.e. invalid. In some cases, this may apply to the entire race. Results achieved before 28 July, where an athlete has worn a shoe above the current track limits, are valid provided the results were achieved in shoes that complied with the sole thicknesses in the previous rule. For example, if an athlete wore 40mm non-spike shoe on the track or 30mm spike between 31 January 2020 and the notification and publication of change of rules on 28 July 2020, then the competition result is valid. The list of shoes that were submitted to World Athletics by manufacturers for assessment, and have been approved, will be published on World Athletics’ website shortly to assist Athletes, Member Federations, Technical Officials and meeting organisers,’’ a statement dated August 10, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

World Athletics publishes list of approved competition shoes

World Athletics has published the list of approved competition shoes, following the amendments to Rule 5 of the Technical Rules announced on 28 July 2020.

The list has been compiled following introduction of the requirement on 31 January 2020 that any new shoe an athlete proposes to wear in international competitions needs to be assessed by World Athletics.

According to a press release dated August 13, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, “ the list does not contain every shoe ever worn by an athlete but it does include some older models of shoes that manufacturers sent to World Athletics for assessment by its independent expert. The position with older shoes that are not on the list is that they still need to comply with the rule going forward. The athlete, or their representative, will need to ensure their older shoe complies with Rule 5.13 in terms of the maximum sole thicknesses for their specified event and any inserted plate or blade, including spike plates if relevant.

“ Under Rule 5 of the Technical Rules, athletes (or their representative) have the responsibility to provide World Athletics with specifications of the new shoes the athlete proposes to wear in competition. World Athletics accepts shoe specification and samples submitted by manufacturers for further examination. If there is doubt about a shoe (particularly shoes that no other athlete has) then athletes, officials and meeting organisers should first refer to the approved list.

“ If the competition referee has a reasonable suspicion that a shoe worn by an athlete might not comply with the rules then at the conclusion of the competition the referee may request the shoe be handed over for further investigation by World Athletics.

“The list of approved shoes will be updated regularly to reflect any new information received.’’

The list of approved shoes (as of August 13, 2020) is available as a link on the above cited press release, on the website of World Athletics.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / JULY 2020

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Chicago Marathon. It is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

2020 Chicago Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon has been cancelled.

A statement available on the event’s website said, “ On Monday, July 13, event organizers and the City of Chicago announced the decision to cancel the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon and all race weekend activities in response to the ongoing public health concerns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“ In regard to the unique set of circumstances surrounding the decision to cancel the 2020 race, the event has put into place an exception to our standard event policies. Each registered participant will have the option to receive a refund for their 2020 race entry or to defer their place and entry fee to a future edition of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (2021, 2022 or 2023).

“ 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon registered participants will be contacted via email with additional information and the opportunity to select one of the following options,’’ the statement said.

More details are available on the race website.

2020 Ladakh Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Ladakh Marathon has been cancelled.

A press release dated July 2, 2020, available on the event’s website said, “ Ladakh Marathon which had been scheduled for 13th September 2020, has been cancelled because of COVID-19.

“ This year, the Ladakh Marathon would have been holding its 9th edition. Like previous editions, this small community of ours was greatly looking forward to welcoming runners from around the world. This 9th Edition was even more special as Ladakh Marathon had become a Qualifying Event of Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group. However, we also cannot simply ignore a global crisis of such proportion.

“ In India, even as we exit from the nationwide lockdown, we are witnessing a peak in positive COVID-19 cases. The border areas of Ladakh are also currently facing a tense situation, so we are looking at the coming months with great uncertainty.

“ As per the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for holding events involving mass participation, we have undertaken a risk assessment exercise and have taken the collective decision to cancel the four races of the 9th edition of Ladakh Marathon so as to not endanger our runners, the residents of Ladakh, our volunteers and staff.

“ All registrations for these 4 races (Marathon, Half Marathon, 10 km and 5 km) which were to be held Sunday 13th September 2020 have been automatically transferred for a period of two years to 2021-2022,’’ the statement said.

However, it added that the status of the two elite races – the 72 km Khardungla Challenge (17,618ft) and the 122 km Silk Route Ultra – is “ under review’’ as the number of participants is restricted to 200. A final decision on these two races is expected by 30th of July. “ Until then, we request all registered runners of these two races to NOT reserve any flights,’’ the press release said.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe becomes a member of IOC

The president of World Athletics, Sebastian Coe, has been elected a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), news reports said on July 17.

Coe was nominated in June. But to be admitted, he needed to first step down from other private business responsibilities he held which constituted potential conflict of interest. World Athletics wasn’t having a member on the IOC since 2015.

A statement dated July 17, available on the website of World Athletics said, “ World Athletics is honoured to have regained its International Federation membership of the IOC today. World Athletics would like to thank all IOC Members for their trust in our sport.” The IOC too had a statement on its website confirming the development. According to it, the 136th session of the IOC elected two vice presidents, two executive board members and five new members.

World Athletics revises its shoe technology rules again

World Athletics has revised further its rules governing shoe technology.

“ These amendments, approved by the World Athletics Council and introduced with immediate effect, are based on significant ongoing discussions with the Working Group on Athletic Shoes, established this year, and with the shoe manufacturers,’’ a press release dated July 28, 2020 available on the website of World Athletics said.

They alterations include changes to the maximum height of spiked shoes for track and field events and the establishment of an ‘Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme’ for unsponsored elite athletes. The maximum height for road shoes (40mm) remains unchanged.

“ The purpose of these amendments is to maintain the current technology status quo until the Olympic Games in Tokyo across all events until a newly formed Working Group on Athletic Shoes, which includes representatives from shoe manufacturers and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI), have had the opportunity to set the parameters for achieving the right balance between innovation, competitive advantage and universality and availability,’’ the statement said.

Details are available on the website of World Athletics.

According to World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon, the previous rule changes, announced in late January, were designed to give the athletes clarity before the Tokyo Olympic Games, which were originally due to take place in July-August this year. However the later postponement of the Olympic Games for a full year, due to the global pandemic, gave the governing body more time to consult with stakeholders and experts and develop amended rules that will guide the sport through until late 2021.

Meanwhile the new Working Group on Athletic Shoes (WGAS) met for their first meeting on July 22. It is tasked with scoping and overseeing studies around shoe technology, exploring definitions to provide clarity to athletes about the shoes they are able to compete in, creating a robust certification and control process and providing expert advice and recommendations to the World Athletics Competition Commission on the future direction of World Athletics’ Rules and Regulations concerning elite athlete shoes for the long-term which may or may not be different to the current rules, the statement said.

World Athletics Council resolves to expel RusAF if payments not received by August 15

The World Athletics Council has decided to expel the Russian Federation (RusAF) from membership of World Athletics if it does not make the outstanding payments of five million dollars in fine and 1.31 million dollars in costs before August 15.

According to a press release dated July 30, 2020 available on the website of World Athletics, the Council, meeting by teleconference due to the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic, agreed to follow the recommendations of the Taskforce, delivered by chairperson Rune Andersen in his report. Addressing the Council, Andersen expressed his disappointment that the Taskforce had seen “ very little in terms of changing the culture of Russian athletics” in the past five years.

He said the Taskforce had spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to help RusAF reform itself and Russian athletics, for the benefit of all clean Russian athletes but the response from RusAF had been inadequate.

According to the press release, in the light of a letter sent to World Athletics by the Russian Minister of Sport Oleg Matytsin, which promised payment of the overdue amounts by August 15, the Council decided to recommend to Congress to expel RusAF from membership of World Athletics, but to suspend the decision.

However this decision will come into effect immediately and automatically if RusAF does not meet the following conditions:

  • Payment in full of the two outstanding RusAF invoices to be received on or before close of business in Monaco on 15 August 2020.
  • The RusAF Reinstatement Commission to provide the draft plan referenced in the third paragraph of Council’s decision of 12 March 2020 – of suitable scope and depth, with an implementation plan and progress indicators – to the Taskforce on or before 31 August 2020.
  • Any changes required by the Taskforce to the draft plan to be incorporated to the Taskforce’s satisfaction on or before 30 September 2020.
  • The plan to be brought into effect and satisfactory progress achieved against the plan (as determined by the Taskforce, based on the input of the international experts appointed by World Athletics), as reported by the Taskforce to Council at each of its subsequent meetings.

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

AT A GLANCE / JUNE 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

With swimming pools still shut, top swimmer says he may have to consider retirement

In what is a clear sign of the quandary competition swimmers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown, Virdhawal Khade, among top swimmers in India has said that he may have to consider retirement.

Khade is one of six swimmers from the country, who secured the lower (B) Olympic qualification mark, for the now postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He achieved it ahead of the lockdown. In India, lockdown started on March 24. Among other things, it resulted in sports facilities – including swimming pools – being shut.  Close to three months later, in recent relaxation to lockdown rules, the freedom to exercise, cycle and be out jogging – have all been restored and assigned specific hours. However swimming pools and gyms are still shut.

Activities like cycling and running have also adapted in part to using virtual reality as alternative to the absence of races. Swimming has no such option. In the early half of the lockdown, long distance swimmers this blog spoke to were all into strength training at home, which they admitted is a poor alternative to being in water. It was the best one could do under the circumstances.

Khade is the current national record holder in the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle and 50m butterfly events. He picked up a bronze medal in the 50m butterfly event at the 2010 Asian Games.

According to a Reuters report on Khade’s predicament, dated June 15, 2020 (since published in the general news media), secretary-general of the Swimming Federation of India (SFI), Monal Chokshi, said that of the six swimmers who made the earlier mentioned Olympic qualifying mark, only Sajan Prakash, who is training in Thailand, has managed to get back to the pool.

The SFI has approached the sports ministry for a solution, the report said.

Ironman 70.3 Goa postponed

Ironman 70.3 Goa scheduled to be held on November 8, 2020 has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“ We are working diligently to secure a new race date for the second half of 2021,” the organizer of the event said on the event’s Instagram page.

“ In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognize that this may come as a disappointment but look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional race experience in the future,” the statement said.

Ironman 70.3 Goa made its debut in 2019. The triathlon saw huge participation from Indian amateur triathletes.

2020 TCS New York City Marathon cancelled

The 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, set to take place on November 1, has been cancelled. New York Road Runners (NYRR), the event organizer, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York, have made the decision to cancel the world’s largest marathon due to coronavirus-related health and safety concerns for runners, spectators, volunteers, staff, and the many partners and communities that support the event, a press statement dated June 24, available on the website of New York Road Runners said.

“ While the marathon is an iconic and beloved event in our city, I applaud New York Road Runners for putting the health and safety of both spectators and runners first,” Mayor Bill de Blasio was quoted as saying. “ We look forward to hosting the 50th running of the marathon in November of 2021.”

“ Canceling this year’s TCS New York City Marathon is incredibly disappointing for everyone involved, but it was clearly the course we needed to follow from a health and safety perspective,” said Michael Capiraso, president and CEO of New York Road Runners.  “ Marathon Day and the many related events and activities during race week are part of the heart and soul of New York City and the global running community, and we look forward to coming together next year.”

According to the statement, NYRR will be connecting directly with runners registered for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon by July 15 with more information regarding the cancellation resolution details, including the option to receive a full refund of their entry fee or a guaranteed complimentary entry in 2021, 2022, or 2023. Runners who gained entry through a charity or tour operator should reach out beginning July 1 to that organization for the options available to them.

This year’s marathon was set to be the 50th running of the event, which began in 1970 and has grown to become the world’s largest marathon with 53,640 finishers in 2019.

“ Runners registered for the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon and others from around the world will be invited to participate in the third annual TCS New York City Marathon – Virtual 26.2M taking place from October 17 through November 1. Further details on the virtual marathon will be shared in July. In addition to the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, the 2020 Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K on October 31 has also been canceled,’’ the statement said, adding, “ The 50th running of the TCS New York City Marathon will take place on November 7, 2021.’’

2020 Berlin Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Berlin Marathon has been cancelled.

The event was earlier suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic; city authorities decided that all events with more than 5000 persons would be prohibited till October 24, 2020. The Berlin Marathon was originally slated to take place in September.

On June 24, the race organizers announced its cancellation.

“ As hard as we have tried, it is currently not possible to organize the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON with its usual Berlin charm. Fun, joy, health and success are attributes that characterize the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, but we are not able to guarantee all of this at the moment. Your health, as well as all of our health, is our first priority. Therefore, taking into account the Containment Measures Ordinance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its latest update on June 17, 2020, the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON 2020 will not be able to take place on September 26-27, 2020. Furthermore, it will also not be possible – after extensive examination and various discussions, also with the authorities – to hold the event at a later date this year,’’ an official statement on the race website said.

Among countries in Europe affected by COVID-19, Germany was perceived as the most efficient in dealing with the disease. It managed the first wave well and the national lockdown was subsequently relaxed. However in recent weeks the country has been tackling new clusters of infection.

Badwater 135 cancelled

The 2020 Badwater 135 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ultra-running event, promoted as the world’s toughest foot race, covers a distance of 135 miles (217.26 kilometers) from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, the trailhead to Mount Whitney, in California, USA.

The 43rd edition of the foot race was to take place over July 6-8, 2020.

Four ultra-runners from India – Ashish Kasodekar, Mandeep Doon, Munish Dev and Praveen Sharma – had been invited to participate in the race. When contacted, Ashish said that the runners from India withdrew in May given the cancellation of flights between India and the US due to COVID-19. The formal cancellation of the event was communicated to participants through email, media reports on the subject said.

During the 2019 edition of Badwater 135, Japan’s Yoshihiko Ishikawa had set a new course record of 21 hours, 33 minutes and one second.

With real race cancelled, UTMB offers virtual alternatives

The organizers of UTMB Mont Blanc plan to launch UTMB for the Planet, a digital sporting event, which will include four virtual races.

The four virtual races will be based on the main distances of the event, the race organizers have informed in a communication to the running community posted on the race’s website. The said four virtual races will be UTMB Virtual 50, UTMB Virtual 100, UTMB Virtual 170 and UTMB Virtual 240.

The 2020 edition of UTMB Mont Blanc was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entry into UTMB for the Planet virtual races is free, the statement said, adding “ all participants are invited to donate the amount of their choice when they register to support WWF France projects. ‘’ The virtual races will be officially launched on July 20 and will be accessible to runners from around the world. The virtual races will be live from July 20 to August 30 and will be hosted on a new UTMB for the Planet digital platform.

According to the statement, to encourage the greatest number of runners to take part, participants will be able to complete their chosen distance over several runs or in one go. The classification will also take into account the kilometre-effort (for any gain of 100m in elevation, one kilometre is added to the distance of the route) for people who cannot integrate elevation gain in their run. “ In addition to the virtual races, original and exclusive challenges will be organised with our partners and will be available on the digital platform. These challenges will offer different sporting formats such as night races, team events or challenges based on elevation,’’ it said.

193 athletes to benefit from welfare fund for pandemic hit times

World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) have announced that 193 athletes from 58 member federations will be offered one-time grants of US$3000 through an Athlete Welfare Fund announced in April to help support professional athletes experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“ The IAF expects to begin making payments to athletes as early as the end of this week,’’ a press release dated June 21, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said.

According to it, the IAF received 261 eligible applications by the 31 May deadline. These applications were evaluated by the IAF to ensure they met the eligibility criteria, under the oversight of an expert working group, chaired by World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. To be eligible athletes had to be qualified for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (by entry standard), had to be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019, and must never have had an anti-doping violation.

Athletes ranked in the top six on the World Rankings, those who finished in the top six in any Gold Label Road race in 2019, and those who earned more than US$6000 in prize money from the 2019 Diamond League were not eligible to apply in order to help focus support to those most in need.

Initially totaling US$500,000 when its creation was announced on 28 April, generous contributions have since made US$600,000 ultimately available to athletes in need, the statement added.

2020 London Marathon: hopeful still

The recent cancellation of the Great North Run in the UK, needn’t imply that the same fate awaits the 2020 edition of the London Marathon, the organizers of the latter event have said.

In an open letter dated June 19, 2020, available on the website of the London Marathon, Event Director, Hugh Brasher said, “ I am sure earlier this week you will have seen the news that the Great North Run was sadly, but understandably, cancelled. There has been much speculation that this means the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will also be cancelled. However, it doesn’t.

“ All road races have unique challenges. These might be transporting people to the start; transporting them from the finish; the density of runners on the course; the density and movement of spectators; providing runners with appropriate medical care and facilities such as loos and drinks; dealing with the logistics of road closures and reopenings – the challenges are always different for every race. The team at London Marathon Events has been looking at the logistics of the Virgin Money London Marathon and coming up with innovative ways to socially distance the event. We have also been working with other mass participation event organisers in the UK, including the Great Run Company and Human Race, to make recommendations to the UK Government on how mass participation events can return,’’ he said.

Brasher pointed out that there are currently just over 15 weeks before the planned date of the 40th London Marathon on October 4, 2020. On the usual timescale for the event, it would be the equivalent of the first week of January. “ That means there is still plenty of time to train and there is neither a need, nor should there be a desire, to be at your peak fitness yet. We still don’t know whether we will be able run together, walk together and be together on that journey of 26.2 miles on 4 October. Almost every day we hear hopeful news from other countries and we hear tales of despair. However, what we do know is that we have hope, desire and ingenuity. Hope that the world will have found a way through Covid-19 by October,’’ he said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

World Athletics publishes safety guidelines for in-stadium outdoor competitions

World Athletics has published a set of health and safety guidelines to assist competition organisers to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus when staging in-stadium outdoor events during the current pandemic, a press statement dated June 11, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

The guidelines, drafted by World Athletics’ Health and Science Department, also address the post-peak period, as described by the World Health Organization (WHO) and are based on scientific and medical knowledge of the virus responsible for COVID-19. The document offers guidance for professional athletes, support staff, technical officials, workforce, volunteers, medical staff and media. Although it doesn’t include guidelines regarding spectators, the WHO has produced a document and risk-assessment tools for mass gatherings.

“ Competition organisers are advised to undertake a four-point risk assessment for all accredited attendants. If an individual scores two or higher, it is recommended that they should undergo a medical clearance protocol before the event,’’ the statement said.

Other recommendations include:

Pre-event

  • Welcome desks organised by local organising committees (LOC) at airports or railway stations should provide each arrival with a welcome bag that includes single-use masks (three per day, minimum), bottles of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and a leaflet to explain the health and safety protocols for that particular event.
  • When being transported from an airport or railway station to competition hotels, all passengers and drivers should wear a mask and be seated at an appropriate distance away from one another. One-way flows should also be implemented to avoid mixing of people.
  • LOCs are also strongly recommended to organise and use a medical encounter registry, recorded on an electronic system, to facilitate identification and further contact of potentially infected individuals.

At the stadium

  • Spectators and accredited personnel should have two completely separate entrances and the flows should not cross. Accredited personnel should only be granted access to the competition venue if wearing a face mask and with their personal hand sanitizer.
  • Face masks should be worn by everyone in the stadium, with the exception of athletes when warming up or competing in their event.
  • Warm-up zones should be large open-air areas within a short walking distance of the competition stadium, and access to it should be strictly controlled. Athletes should be invited to enter the warm-up area following a specific timetable. All accredited personnel should wear a mask and wash their hands before entering warm-up zones or dedicated toilets.
  • Masks should also be worn in call rooms, which should be arranged in an outdoor location. It is also mandatory to disinfect chairs between each use.

In competition

  • The number of people on the field of play should be kept to a minimum, and officials who will be coming into close contact with athletes should wear protective glasses or a plastic face shield, in addition to their mask.
  • Once athletes have crossed the finish line, they should try to keep their distance from the public and officials, where possible, until they collect their belongings from the call room.

Specific guidelines for individual disciplines:

  • Starting blocks should be cleaned between each race.
  • Chlorine should be added to the water jump for the steeplechase.
  • Relay batons should be cleaned between each use, and relay teams should be discouraged from gathering or hugging after a race.
  • The use of hand sanitizer should be recommended before each attempt in vertical jumps.
  • Officials should clean the landing mat between each jump, using a mop and virucidal solution or use a thin layer of recyclable plastic or tissue that can be placed on the jumping mat.
  • Sand in jumping pits should be mixed with a solution that contains biodegradable and non-skin-aggressive virucide agent.
  • Officials who handle throwing implements should clean their hands or use disposable gloves after each handling.
  • In combined events, the room used by athletes to recover between disciplines should be open-air, if possible. Coaches should be encouraged to interact with their athletes using electronic devices.

After competition

  • Media mixed zones should also be outside, if possible, and the number of people in the area should be kept to a minimum. A plexiglass screen should be placed between the athletes and the media, and cleaned after each interview, and separate interview boxes should be used if there are multiple positions. Without screens, a safety dead zone of three metres should be adopted when journalists interview athletes, and masks should be used by both parties.
  • To keep the number of people on the field of play to a minimum, live award ceremonies are not recommended, but alternative digital solutions are encouraged.
  • Once the competition has concluded, a thorough disinfection procedure should be undertaken.

The guidelines in full are available for downloading on the World Athletics website. “ The document is dynamic and will be updated as and when more evidence and scientific-based knowledge becomes available,’’ the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Over 43,000 participate in virtual Comrades Marathon

Over 43,000 runners from 103 countries participated in the first virtual Comrades Marathon – Race the Comrades Legends – on Sunday, June 14, 2020.

From India, 316 runners registered for the virtual run. Compared to registrations for the virtual event, paticipation for the last edition of the race in its physical form – 2019 Comrades Marathon – was capped at 25,000 (source: Wikipedia).

The 2020 edition of Comrades Marathon, held annually in South Africa, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual race, held in its place, offered various distance options – five kilometers, 10 km, 21.1 km, 45 km and 90 km. At the end of the run, participating runners had to upload their race data.

News reports said Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) may consider organizing more virtual races as the response to its first event has been overwhelming.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / MAY 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Tokyo Games may have to be cancelled if it can’t be held next summer

President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach has indicated that the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games may have to be cancelled if the new dates of next summer cannot be met owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking on the situation, he told BBC Sport that neither can the Games organizers keep their staff permanently employed nor can athletes remain in uncertainty.

According to the report dated May 20, 2020, available on the BBC website, Bach also said that the event would be focused on essentials and while holding it behind closed doors isn’t his preference, he requires more time to consider the option.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe has said that staging the rescheduled Games would be difficult if the country does not contain the virus in time. Top medical officials in Japan have also pointed to the relevance of a vaccine in this regard. BBC said that when asked of this angle, Bach responded the IOC was counting on advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Recent news reports have pointed out that while there are several vaccine candidates in various stages of study, not only will they take between 12-18 months to be properly approved but top scientists have also cautioned, a successful vaccine may not emerge anytime soon.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games was originally slated for July 24-August 9, 2020. It was rescheduled to July 23-August 8, 2021 (retaining 2020 in the event name) following the outbreak of COVID-19 and its spread worldwide.

Sports Ministry approves resumption of training at its sports complexes and stadiums

The Sports Ministry has given its go ahead to the resumption of training at its complexes and stadiums after the government permitted their reopening in the fourth phase of the lockdown caused by COVID-19, Press Trust of India (PTI) reported, May 15, 2020.

According to the report published in national media, India’s sports minister Kiren Rijiju said activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadiums strictly in accordance with guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). “ I’m happy to inform sportspersons and all concerned that sports activities will be conducted in sports complexes and stadia strictly in accordance with MHA guidelines and that of the States in which they are situated,” Rijiju tweeted. The minister however reminded that the use of gyms and swimming pools are still prohibited.

2020 Comrades Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Comrades Marathon, which was postponed earlier due to concerns over COVID-19, has now been officially cancelled.

An official statement available on the website of the event said, “ Following long discussion with the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) Board and KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA), Athletics South Africa has announced the cancellation of the 2020 Comrades Marathon.’’

It quoted CMA Chairperson Cheryl Winn as saying, “ It is with profound sadness and regret that the CMA Board, in conjunction with ASA and KZNA, had to make this decision. We do so with the knowledge that it will come as a great disappointment to thousands of Comrades runners, who together with us at CMA, have been holding out hope that the race would somehow proceed.

“ We had hoped to postpone The Ultimate Human Race to a date not later than end of September (owing to climatic conditions), but alas with the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating and anticipated to peak in the coming months, there is no telling what is yet to come. As CMA, it is incumbent upon us to prioritise the health, safety and well-being of our athletes, volunteers and stakeholders and therefore lamentably we will not be staging this year’s edition of the country’s leading road running event.”

According to the statement, exactly 80 years ago, Comrades Marathon organizers had faced a similar dilemma in deciding whether to stage the 20th Comrades Marathon some eight months into the conflagration of World War II.  At the last moment it was decided to go ahead with just 23 starters, following the withdrawal of many runners who had been mobilized for the war effort.  Only ten runners completed the 1940 Comrades Marathon.  The following year the race was cancelled and remained so for the duration of the war (1941 – 1945), as the organizers, runners and supporters stood in solidarity with all those who suffered the horrors and atrocities of war, similar to that of the World War 1 which had inspired the Comrades Marathon’s humble beginnings.

Registration opens for professional athletes facing funds crunch due to pandemic

Professional athletes who are experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic will be able to register for a one-off welfare grant from the welfare fund set up by World Athletics and International Athletics Foundation (IAF). The registration window is from May 15 until May 31, an official statement dated May 15, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

It was two weeks ago that the two organizations announced that a US$ 500,000 welfare fund had been created to support professional athletes who have lost a substantial part of their income due to the suspension of international competition this year. A working group was formed to oversee the distribution of the funds and it has now finalized the eligibility criteria and application process.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who chairs the working group, said it had been a challenging and complicated task to define the eligibility criteria to ensure that grants from the fund were delivered to the athletes most in need.

According to the statement, the fund will support athletes who have met the Tokyo Olympic Games entry standard and will provide welfare grants to be used to cover basic living expenses. The level of grant will be dependent on the number of approved applications and up to a maximum of US$4000. It is anticipated that the grants will be distributed directly to athletes from June. Only athletes who have been impacted financially to the extent that they are unable to maintain their basic standard of living should apply. All applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Must be qualified (by meeting the entry standard) for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
  • Must have never had an anti-doping rule violation
  • Must be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019.

To help ensure the fund goes to those most in need, the following athletes will not be eligible to apply:

  • Those ranked in the Top 6 in their event in the World Athletics World Rankings
  • Those who have finished in the Top 6 positions of any Gold Label Road Race in 2019
  • Those who have earned more than USD 6,000 in prize money from the Diamond League in 2019

Athletes who, throughout the covid-19 pandemic, continue to receive an annual grant from their government, national olympic committee, member federation or sponsors are not expected to apply unless they can demonstrate a justifiable welfare need as detailed above.

The first phase of the application process is for the IAF to assess eligibility and for athletes to describe the need for grant support and their proposed use of the grant. More detailed financial information will be requested in the second phase prior to confirmation of any grant award, the statement said.

Sports Authority of India to prepare SOP for resuming training post lockdown

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) has formed a committee to prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for phased resumption of training across sporting disciplines at all its centers once the lockdown due to COVID-19 is lifted.

According to a report from the Press Trust of India (PTI), published in the media on May 10, 2020, the six-member panel will be headed by SAI secretary Rohit Bharadwaj and will have as members, CEO Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) Rajesh Rajagopalan, Executive Director (Operations) SS Roy, SS Sarla, Col BK Nayak and Assistant Director TOPS Sachin K. All training had been suspended across SAI centers in view of the on-going pandemic.

The proposed SOP will describe protocols and preventive measures to be observed by all stakeholders, including trainees, coaches, technical and non-technical support staff, NSFs, administrators, mess and hostel staff and visitors, once training resumes.

It will include the guidelines to be followed on entry norms, sanitization and precautions to be taken in common areas and by athletes while travelling to and from the center. A separate committee has been formed to prepare a SOP for swimming, since the sport requires athletes to train in water and may have a different set of health risks to address. The committee for swimming will be headed by Executive Director, TEAMS Division of SAI, Radhica Sreeman, and will include Monal Choksi, secretary general of the Swimming Federation of India, senior coaches and doctors, the PTI report said.

The recommendations of the committees are being made in consultation with respective National Sporting Federations and other stakeholders and will be sent to the Sports Ministry for final approval.

IOC foresees costs of up to $ 800 million as its share in organizing Tokyo Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) anticipates that it will have to bear costs of up to USD 800 million for its share of responsibilities in organizing the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, its own extended operations and the support for the wider Olympic Movement. This amount will be covered by the IOC itself, including any funding from the Olympic Foundation, an official statement dated May 14, 2020, available on the IOC website said.

This number includes the cost for the organization of the postponed Games of up to USD 650 million for the IOC and an aid package of up to USD 150 million for the Olympic Movement, including the International Federations (IFs), the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the IOC-Recognized Organizations, to enable them to continue their sports, their activities and their support to their athletes. Today, the IOC Executive Board (EB) approved this financial plan.

“ At the moment, the IOC is undergoing a deep analysis process to evaluate and assess the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on all of its operations. This is a complex exercise because of the constantly changing factors which have to be considered in the current environment,’’ the statement said.

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

AT A GLANCE / APRIL 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

World Athletics launches fund to support professional athletes facing hardship due to pandemic

World Athletics and the International Athletics Foundation (IAF) have together launched a US$500,000 fund to support professional athletes experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sebastian Coe, president, World Athletics, has said that the fund will be used to assist athletes who have lost most of their income in the last few months due to the suspension of international competitions. It may be recalled that several international sports meets were postponed or cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coe will chair an expert multi-regional working group to assess the applications for assistance, which will be submitted through World Athletics’ six Area Associations. The members will include: Olympic champion and 1500m world record-holder Hicham El Guerrouj, Olympic pole vault champion Katerina Stefanidi (representing the WA Athletes’ Commission), WA Executive Board members Sunil Sabharwal (Audit Committee) and Abby Hoffman, WA Council members Adille Sumariwalla, Beatrice Ayikoru and Willie Banks, IAF Executive Committee member and former WA treasurer Jose Maria Odriozola and Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines President Keith Joseph, a statement dated April 28, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

The working group will meet soon to establish a process for awarding and distributing grants to individual athletes and to look at other ways to raise additional monies for the fund. Established in 1986 to support charitable causes involving athletics, the International Athletics Foundation (IAF), under the Honorary Presidency of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, has allocated resources from its budgets for 2020 and 2021 to assist athletes in need through this process. Coe also chairs the IAF, the statement said.

2020 IAU 24H Asia and Oceania Championships postponed

The 2020 IAU 24H Asia and Oceania Championships, which was to be held in Bengaluru in July, have been postponed.

“ Due to the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) situation in India (lock down) and globally, we have taken the decision with the LOC at this time to postpone the 2020 IAU 24 Hours Asia and Oceania Championships to a later date. We are working with the LOC to come up with an appropriate date later this year,’’ an official statement dated April 12, 2020, available on the website of International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), said.

LOC stands for Local Organizing Committee.

No Berlin Marathon in September

The 2020 Berlin Marathon will not take place in September as earlier scheduled.

An official statement dated April 21, 2020, available on the event website said, “ We have learned from the press conference of the Berlin Senate on April 21, 2020, that according to the Containment Ordinance, all events with more than 5,000 persons will be prohibited until October 24, 2020. This applies to many of our events, but especially to the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON, which cannot take place on September 26 and 27, 2020, as planned.

“ We will now deal with the consequences of the official prohibition of our events, coordinate the further steps and inform you as soon as we can.’’

Comrades Marathon postponed

The 2020 edition of South Africa’s annual Comrades Marathon has been postponed.

This follows government measures to fight the spread of COVID-19.    Although called a marathon, with over 25,000 participants and a course length of 87-90 kilometers, Comrades is actually the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon. A new date for 2020 Comrades has not been announced yet.

A statement dated April 17, 2020, available on the website of Athletics South Africa (ASA), said, “ Following the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 9 April to extend the lockdown of the country by 14 days in order to slow down and manage the extent of the Corona Virus (COVID-19), ASA has taken heed of the latest pronouncement and has aligned accordingly.’’ It quoted ASA president, Aleck Skhosana as saying, “ in compliance, the suspension of all athletics activities is therefore also extended. ‘’

The suspension of activities will remain in place until is it deemed safe to resume by the national government. “ The Comrades Marathon is therefore postponed from 14 June to a suitable date that will be determined between ASA, KZN Athletics and the Comrades Marathon Association as soon as conditions around the management of the virus allow us to, under the guidance of the government,” the statement said.

It quoted the chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA), Cheryl Winn, as saying, “ we welcome the announcement by ASA, which includes the postponement of the 2020 Comrades which had been scheduled for 14 June.’’

Tour de France postponed

The 2020 edition of Tour de France has been postponed.

Originally scheduled over June 29-July 19, it will now take place from August 29-September 20.

The decision follows France’s recent decision to not permit large scale events in the country following the spread of COVID-19.

A statement dated April 15, 2020, available on the event’s website, said, “ following the President’s address on Monday evening, where large-scale events were banned in France until mid-July as a part of the fight against the spread of COVID-19, the organisers of the Tour de France, in agreement with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), have decided to postpone the Tour de France to Saturday 29th August to Sunday 20th September 2020. Initially scheduled to take place from the 27th June to the 19th July, the Tour de France will follow the same route, with no changes, from Nice to Paris.’’

It added, “ the women’s event, La Course by le Tour de France avec FDJ, which was initially scheduled to take place on 19th July on the Champs Elysées, will also be postponed to a date that is still to be determined, but it will take place during the Tour de France 2020. Equally, the 30th edition of the Etape du Tour cyclosportive, originally schedule to take place on the 5th July, will be postponed to a date yet to be determined.’’

2020 IAU 100 km World Championship cancelled

The 2020 IAU 100 km World Championship scheduled to be held on September 12 at Winschoten in the Netherlands, has been cancelled.

This follows the spread of COVID-19 across the world.

“ The current international situation would have seriously compromised the championships as many countries are now restricting international travel, invoking quarantines and advising citizens to remain indoors to prevent infection.  Even if the situation eases before September, any capability for international participation would be considerably reduced. First and foremost we had to consider the health and well-being of our athletes, officials and spectators in making this decision,’’ the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) said in a statement dated April 4, 2020, available on their website.

The 2020 IAU Congress has also been cancelled. “ We will work with the IAU Council on the future date of the Congress and elections,’’ the statement added.

2020 TCS World 10K rescheduled to September

A new date has been announced for the 2020 TCS World 10K.

The annual event in Bengaluru, originally scheduled for May 17 and then marked for rescheduling due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is now expected to be held on September 13. This is as per an official statement dated April 3, 2020, available on the event website.

“ We shall overcome this unprecedented situation and God willing the event will take place on 13th September 2020,’’ Vivek Singh, Joint-MD of event organizer, Procam International, was quoted as saying in the statement. Hugh Jones, Race Director, has said, “ Postponing the TCSW10K Bengaluru was bowing to the inevitable. It is just not possible to stage a race in currently prevailing conditions. Pushing the race date four months forward allows plans to be made with confidence for a race that is likely to be more competitive than ever.’’

Details on registration and surrendering registration already made are available on the event website.

2020 Race Across America (RAAM) and Race Aross West (RAW) cancelled

The 2020 edition of Race Across America (RAAM), one of the toughest endurance races in cycling, has been cancelled owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The race entails riding across the US, from its west coast to the east. The annual event also includes Race Across West (RAW), a race straddling a shorter length of the course.

In an email communique to participants on April 3, 2020, the organizers of RAAM informed, “ our decision to cancel the 2020 Races is consistent with the decisions made by other event sponsors and sports organizations around the world.  As COVID-19 rapidly spread around the globe in recent months, tournaments, games and other sporting events have been substantially modified, postponed or canceled. The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games to 2021 was an eye opener for every event organizer. More recently, the decisions by both Ironman and the UCI reinforced our decision.’’

It added, “ as the COVID-19 virus spread it became clear the coronavirus pandemic would make planning exceptionally difficult for race owners/directors. The COVID-19 virus became the overriding consideration in race planning. Two important facts were required to properly plan for and hold the Races: 1) how long would the pandemic last; and 2) can the race be put on safely for everyone involved. We soon realized it would be inappropriate to be considering a bicycle race when the entire world was dealing with such a serious public health crisis. ’’

The organizers pointed out that given RAAM goes through 12 states and 350 communities, there are several restrictive measures – ranging from limits on social interaction to steps designed to check overloading health care infrastructure to stay-at-home directives – issued by local, state and federal governments to be considered. The lock down orders in both California and Maryland, as they stand, prohibit the running of the race. The decision to cancel RAAM’s 2020 edition was based on all these factors.

“ RAAM has offered racers the option of a one-year rollover for at least the past decade. We are now modifying this policy to allow racers to rollover their registration to either the 2021 Race or the 2022 Race. Also, there will be no increase in registration fees for those rolling over to 2021 or 2022,’’ the email said.

Qualification period for Tokyo Olympics suspended from April 6 to November 30

The qualification period for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games (shifted to 2021) has been suspended from April 6, 2020 to November 30, 2020.

“ During this period, results achieved at any competition will not be considered for Tokyo 2020 entry standards or world rankings, the publication of which will also be suspended. Results will continue to be recorded for statistical purposes, including for world records, subject to the applicable conditions. But they will not be used to establish an athlete’s qualification status,’’ a press release dated April 7, 2020 available on the website of World Athletics said.

According to it, subject to the global situation returning to normal, the qualification period will resume on 1 December 2020 and continue to the new qualification deadline in 2021 set by the International Olympic Committee. The total qualification period, which started in 2019, will be four months longer than it was originally.

“ Athletes who have already met the entry standard since the start of the qualification period in 2019 remain qualified and will be eligible for selection by their respective Member Federations and National Olympic Committees, together with the other athletes who will qualify within the extended qualification period. The end of the Olympic qualification periods are 31 May 2021 (for 50km race walk and marathon) and 29 June 2021 for all other events,’’ the press release said.

New dates announced for World Athletics Championships

The World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA, have been rescheduled to 15-24 July in 2022.

This follows the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“ The Oregon World Championships were originally scheduled for 6-15 August, 2021, but have been rescheduled to the following year to avoid a clash with the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The World Athletics Council approved the new dates this week after extensive discussions with the sport’s stakeholders including organisers of two other major championships due to take place in July-August 2022, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and the multisport European Championships in Munich. The new schedule will prevent a direct conflict between any of these major events and, with careful programming, will ensure athletes can compete in up to three world-class competitions,’’ an official statement dated April 8, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / MARCH 2020

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Boston Marathon and is being used here for representation purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.

Boston Marathon postponed

The 2020 Boston Marathon has been postponed to September owing to concerns related to COVID-19.

A statement dated March 13, available on the event website, said, “ The Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) has been meeting regularly with city and state officials to discuss all updates related to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020. In consideration of this and guided by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh along with state and municipal government leaders at all levels to undertake all possible measures to safeguard the health of the public, the B.A.A. understands the city’s decision that the Boston Marathon cannot be held on April 20, 2020. We offer our full support to take all reasonable efforts to postpone the 124th Boston Marathon to Monday, September 14, 2020.’’

According to it, the B.A.A. has been cooperating with municipal leaders across the eight cities and towns through which the marathon course runs to coordinate the September 14 date for the 124th Boston Marathon. The B.A.A. 5K, which draws a field of 10,000 participants, will also be rescheduled to a later date. Registered participants and volunteers will receive additional information in the coming days. “ As this is a rapidly evolving situation, further details will be forthcoming,’’ the statement said.

Dana Zatopkova passes away

Dana Zatopkova, 1952 Olympic javelin champion and former world record holder, passed away on March 13, 2020.

She was 97 years old.

Dana was the wife of Emil Zatopek, among the greatest distance runners of all time. Zatopek died in November 2000.

Dana was the first Czech woman to throw beyond 40 meters, a report on her demise available on the website of World Athletics, said.  She was selected for the 1948 London Olympics. It was at this competition that Zatopek went over to congratulate her; in the ensuing conversation the duo discovered that they shared the same birthday.

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Zatopek secured gold in the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon while Dana struck gold in the javelin. At the 1960 Olympics in Rome, she secured silver. According to Wikipedia, Dana was European champion in 1954 and 1958; she also set a world record in 1958, aged 35.

This image is from the 2019 London Marathon. It was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

London Marathon postponed

The 2020 London Marathon scheduled to take place on April 26 has been postponed given the current predicament of several countries tackling COVID-19.

The event will be held in October.

A statement dated March 13, available on the website of the event, said, “ The 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon – The 40th Race – is now scheduled to take place on Sunday 4 October 2020.’’ It quoted Event Director, Hugh Brasher, as saying, “ the world is in an unprecedented situation grappling with a global pandemic of COVID-19 and public health is everyone’s priority. We know how disappointing this news will be for so many – the runners who have trained for many months, the thousands of charities for which they are raising funds and the millions who watch the race every year. We are extremely grateful for all the support we have received from City Hall, the London boroughs of Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, the City of Westminster and the City of London, Transport for London, the emergency services, The Royal Parks, BBC TV and many others as we worked to find an alternative date. The 40th Race is scheduled to go ahead on Sunday 4 October 2020.”

According to the statement, every runner with a place in the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon will be able to use their place in the rescheduled event on Sunday 4 October without any further payment. All runners who have a place for the 2020 event and who choose not to take part (or are unable to do so) in the rescheduled event on Sunday 4 October will receive a refund of their 2020 entry fee or, if they wish, they may donate their 2020 entry fee to The London Marathon Charitable Trust. Runners who do not take up one of the above options (with the exception of those who acquired their entry through a charity or sponsor) will be able to defer (rollover) their entry to the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon, scheduled for Sunday 25 April 2021, on payment of the entry fee for 2021, following the standard deferment process. Runners who have already withdrawn from the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon and rolled over their entry to 2021 will be offered the option to take part on Sunday 4 October or keep their entry rolled over to 2021.

The Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships will take place within the rescheduled event and qualified runners will be automatically entered into the rescheduled event. If qualified runners cannot take part on Sunday 4 October, they will be offered a full refund. It is not possible to defer these places to 2021, the statement added.

Two Oceans Marathon cancelled

The 2020 Two Oceans Marathon slated for April 8-11 in Cape Town, South Africa, has been cancelled over concerns related to COVID-19.

Two Oceans Marathon is Africa’s biggest event in running.

A statement dated March 15, available on the event’s website said, “ Following an emergency meeting of the Two Oceans Marathon NPC board on Saturday, it was unanimously decided that all Two Oceans Marathon events scheduled for 8-11 April 2020 would be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the global spread of the coronavirus.’’ It quoted Race Director Debra Barnes as saying, “ We have been monitoring the status of the novel coronavirus pandemic as events have unfolded internationally and locally, and we’ve consulted with public health experts and authorities. The health and safety of the competitors, staff, sponsors and the global community are paramount and an event of this scale poses far too great a risk to continue. Guided by this priority and global best practice, the TOM NPC has made the difficult decision to cancel the world’s most beautiful ultramarathon for 2020.”

Further information will be made available in due course, the statement said.

No Hyderabad Marathon as earlier scheduled

The 2020 Airtel Hyderabad Marathon slated for August 1-2 this year will not be held as earlier scheduled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a notice on the event’s website informed. According to it, a new date will be announced “ at a later time.” All those who registered for the event will receive full refund, it said.

2020 TCS 10K to be rescheduled

The 2020 TCS World 10K will be rescheduled due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

“ Procam International has decided to suspend registrations for the Tata Consultancy Services World 10K 2020 (to be held on 17th May) and reschedule the Race Day,’’ a statement available on the event’s website said. The new date will be confirmed “ over the next few days,’’ it added.

According to it, runners who have already registered will have their registrations automatically transferred to the new race date, without any payment.

Camille Herron (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the US National 24-Hour Running Team and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

2019 IAU Athlete of the Year announced: Camille Herron, Aleksandr Sorokin win

Ultrarunners Camille Herron of the U.S. and Aleksandr Sorokin of Lithuania have been chosen IAU Athlete of the Year for 2019 in their respective gender categories.

Camille received over 37 percent of votes and Aleksandr 31 percent, information available on the website of International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU), said.

Camille had won the title in 2015 and 2018. In 2017, she was runner-up. For Aleksandr, this is the first time he is winning it; he was nominated in 2018.

Camille was winner of the women’s race at the IAU 24-hour World Championship held at Albi, France. She covered a distance of 270.116 km, a new world best in that category.

Aleksandr was overall winner of the IAU 24-hour World Championship, covering a distance of 278.972 km, a Lithuanian national best.

In the title selection process, Alyson Dixon of Great Britain placed second among women with 15 percent votes. Alyson was winner of the IAU 50 km World Championship. Claudia Robles of Argentina ended third with seven percent votes. Claudia had finished second in the IAU 100 km Americas Championship.

Among men, Iraitz Arrospide of Spain placed second with 19 percent votes. He was winner of the IAU 50 km World Championship. Tamas Bodis of Hungary placed third with 14 per cent votes. He had finished second at the IAU 24-hour World Championships. He was also the winner of the 2019 edition of Spartathlon.

Earlier, Mumbai’s Deepak Bandbe had been among those who automatically qualified as a candidate for IAU’s Athlete of the Year 2019 award. The nomination was based on his podium finish at the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championship held at Aqaba, Jordan, in November 2019. The eventual winners of the IAU award were selected from this list.

AFI issues advisory to athletes, coaches on coronavirus outbreak

Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has issued an advisory to athletes, coaches and support staff following the increase in the number of cases of infections of coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country.

As per the advisory, athletes are not allowed to go out of the camps or attend any public or private functions. They and not allowed to train with anyone from outside the camps. Coaches have been asked to ensure that non-campers are not training with campers and separate time slot be allotted to them. Symptoms of flu or any other ailments should be reported immediately.

The AFI meeting to discuss this issue was held on March 5, 2020. The meeting was chaired by AFI President Adille Sumariwalla and attended by Dr Lalit K Bhanot, Chairman AFI Planning Committee, Pradeep Srivastava, AFI treasurer and Sandeep Mehta, Secretary Delhi Athletics Association.

Additionally, the athletes and coaches have been urged to follow World Health Organization (WHO) advisory including avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, washing of hands frequently, avoiding unprotected contact with farm and wild animals and follow cough etiquette. AFI said that if any athlete, coach or supporting staff is joining the camp after leaving, a mandatory medical check-up has to be carried out by the medical team present at the camp before they are allowed to join the camp.

Confirmed cases cross 100,000 globally: On March 7, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, has surpassed 100,000. “ As we mark this sombre moment, the World Health Organization (WHO) reminds all countries and communities that the spread of this virus can be significantly slowed or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities. China and other countries are demonstrating that spread of the virus can be slowed and impact reduced through the use of universally applicable actions, such as working across society to identify people who are sick, bringing them to care, following up on contacts, preparing hospitals and clinics to manage a surge in patients, and training health workers. WHO calls on all countries to continue efforts that have been effective in limiting the number of cases and slowing the spread of the virus. Every effort to contain the virus and slow the spread saves lives. These efforts give health systems and all of society much needed time to prepare, and researchers more time to identify effective treatments and develop vaccines. Allowing uncontrolled spread should not be a choice of any government, as it will harm not only the citizens of that country but affect other countries as well,’’ WHO said in a statement available on its website.

March 11 / WHO characterizes COVID-19 as a pandemic: At a media briefing of March 11, 2020, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described COVID-19 as a pandemic. At that juncture, the number of cases had risen to over 118,000 in 114 countries with 4291 fatalities reported. “ Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do. We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled, at the same time,’’ Dr Ghebreyesus was quoted as saying in the text of his remarks available on the website of WHO.

“ Just looking at the number of cases and the number of countries affected does not tell the full story. Of the 118,000 cases reported globally in 114 countries, more than 90 percent of cases are in just four countries and two of those – China and the Republic of Korea – have significantly declining epidemics. 81 countries have not reported any cases, and 57 countries have reported 10 cases or less. We cannot say this loudly enough, or clearly enough, or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic,’’ he said.

Barcelona Marathon postponed

The 2020 Barcelona Marathon has been postponed to later in the year.

A statement dated March 7, available on the website of Zurich Marato’ Barcelona said, the event has been postponed to October 25. “ This was due to security reasons with regard to COVID 19 and following the WHO and health authorities’ recommendations on this matter for major international events,” the statement said.

2020 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships postponed

The 2020 World Athletics Half Marathon Championships scheduled for March 29 in Gdynia, Poland, has been postponed.

The event was to see participation by over 25,000 runners.

A statement dated March 6, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said, “ It is with regret that we have agreed with the Mayor of Gdynia and the organisers of the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships Gdynia 2020 (29 March) to postpone this event until October this year, due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the spread of new Coronavirus internationally.

“ The current international situation would have seriously compromised the event at this time as many countries are now restricting international travel, invoking quarantines and advising citizens and event organisers to avoid mass gatherings. First and foremost we had to consider the health and well-being of our athletes, officials and spectators in making this decision. The advice from our medical team, who are in contact with the World Health Organisation, is that the spread of the Coronavirus is at a concerning level in many countries and all major gatherings should be reviewed. This week we have worked with the Local Organising Committee to identify an appropriate alternative date for both the host city and for the elite competitors and we have agreed on 17 October this year,’’ the statement said.

It said key information pertaining to the postponement of the event, may be found on the official website.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Mumbai proposed as venue for IOC session in 2023

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board (EB) has decided that Mumbai, India, will be a candidate to host the IOC Session in 2023. The matter will be put to vote among IOC members. A decision will be taken at the 136th IOC session in Tokyo in July.

In a report dated March 4, 2020, available on its website (under the subcategory: IOC News), IOC informed that its executive board had heard a report from the IOC Session Evaluation Commission, which visited Mumbai in October 2019 to study the feasibility of hosting the IOC session in Mumbai. The evaluation commission praised the quality of facilities at the Jio World Centre, which is the potential venue for the IOC session.

The report quoted IOC president, Thomas Bach as saying, “ we have chosen India because it is the second most populous nation in the world, with a very young population and a huge potential for Olympic sport. We want to encourage and support the National Olympic Committee of India and all the National Federations to promote and strengthen Olympic sport in the country.”

According to the report, it is hoped that hosting the IOC session in India will highlight the role of sport in India and celebrate the contribution of India to the Olympic Movement. “ The year 2023 will be significant for India as it coincides with the 75th anniversary of Indian independence. Hosting the IOC Session in Mumbai would put the Olympic Movement at the heart of those celebrations,’’ the statement said.

Japan’s Olympic minister hints at room for Games postponement if required

IOC to follow WHO’s advice; says for now, athletes should continue preparations

Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympic minister has indicated that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can be postponed if required from summer to later in the year, news reports said, March 3.

Japan is among countries tackling coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this month, as a consequence of the developing situation, the annual Tokyo Marathon was held in truncated format with participation restricted to elite athletes. For the past couple of months, the question of what may happen to the 2020 Olympic Games has hung like a Damocles Sword over the event.

According to a BBC report on March 3, minister Hashimoto said in response to a question in Japan’s parliament that Tokyo’s agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required the Games to be held within 2020. The report said: she added, that “ could be interpreted as allowing a postponement.’’

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled over July 24-August 9.

In a separate press release (dated March 3, 2020) available on its website, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that its executive board heard and discussed a report on measures taken so far to address the coronavirus situation. “ A joint task force had already been created in mid-February, involving the IOC, Tokyo 2020, the host city of Tokyo, the government of Japan and the World Health Organization (WHO). The IOC EB appreciates and supports the measures being taken, which constitute an important part of Tokyo’s plans to host safe and secure Games. The IOC will continue to follow the advice of WHO, as the leading United Nations agency on this topic,’’ the statement said.

It added, “ The IOC EB encourages all athletes to continue to prepare for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.’’

London Marathon issues statement

On March 3, the website of London Marathon (it’s upcoming edition is scheduled for April 26, 2020) hosted the following statement: “ We are monitoring closely the developments relating to the spread of COVID-19 and noting the updates and advice given by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation and other UK public bodies.

“ The Government’s current advice is that all mass events should still go ahead. There are many mass events scheduled in the UK before us and we are working closely with the DCMS (the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and other mass event organisers to coordinate and agree appropriate advice to the public.’’

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Tokyo Marathon Foundation. No copyright infringement intended.

Defending champion Birhanu Legese wins 2020 Tokyo Marathon

Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel sets new course record in the women’s race

Ethiopia’s Birhanu Legese defended his title at the 2020 edition of Tokyo Marathon, held on March 1, 2020.

He crossed the finish line in two hours, four minutes and 15 seconds. “ At first I thought I could do better than 2:03:30. However, my left hip began to hurt and the pain kept getting worse. So I made it my mission to win. I am happy to finish, the winner,” Birhanu was quoted as saying in a tweet by Tokyo Marathon Foundation.

Bashir Abdi of Belgium placed second with timing of 2:04:49 while Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia finished third in 2:04:51.

The women’s race was won by Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel in a course record of 2:17:45. Berhane Dibaba of Ethiopia came in second with timing of 2:18:35 and Sutume Asefa Kebede, also of Ethiopia, finished third with timing of 2:20:30.

This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of Tokyo Marathon Foundation. No copyright infringement intended.

According to a report on the 2020 Tokyo Marathon available on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF), Legese missed the course record in the men’s segment by 18 seconds. However, the men’s race saw 17 runners finish inside 2:08. This included Suguru Osako of Japan (2:05:29), who placed fourth breaking the Japanese national record in the process. He maintained his Olympic qualifying place. Of the top ten finishers among men, four were Japanese runners.

Among women, the highest placed Japanese athlete was Haruka Yamaguchi (2:30:31) who finished tenth.

The 2020 Tokyo Marathon was reduced to an elites-only affair after fears over coronavirus outbreak in Japan led to the participation of amateur runners in the event being cancelled. Amateur runners form the bulk of participants at big races. The Japanese federation and race organizers advised people to stay at home and track the marathon on TV / radio. In its report, BBC paraphrased, “ The Tokyo Marathon took place on Sunday against a backdrop of empty streets and with just a couple of hundred runners due to the coronavirus outbreak.” Japan is among nations known to harbor great interest in running. The Tokyo Marathon normally features over 30,000 runners from all over the world.

Kenenisa Bekele and Lily Partridge (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event. No copyright infringement intended.)

Kenenisa Bekele sets new course record

Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele won the Vitality Big Half Marathon held in London on Sunday, March 1, 2020.

He completed the race in an hour and 22 seconds, demolishing Mo Farah’s course record by a minute and 18 seconds in the process. Britain’s Christopher Thompson finished second while Jake Smith placed third.

The women’s race was won by Britain’s Lily Partridge in 1:10:50.

Bekele is expected to participate in the London Marathon of April 26, 2020. The defending champion there is Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / FEBRUARY 2020

Bhawana Jat (center). Photo: AFI Media / this photo was downloaded from the AFI website.

Bhawana Jat sets new national record in women’s 20 km race walk, qualifies for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Bhawana Jat of Indian Railways won the 20 km race walk for women at the 7th National Race Walking Championships held on Saturday (February 15, 2020).

With timing of 1:29:54 she has set a new national record and also achieved the qualification standard for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Athletics Federation of India (AFI) said in a statement. Uttar Pradesh’s Priyanka Goswami, who placed second, missed the Olympic qualification by 36 seconds. She finished the race in 1:31:36. Karamjit Kaur of Punjab finished third in 1:33:41. Bhawana improved upon the previous national record of 1:31:29 held by Baby Sowmya. It was set in Delhi two years ago. The Olympic qualifying mark for women in the 20km-race, as decided by World Athletics, required timing of below 1:30.

Bhawana, 23, was the first Indian women athlete to meet the qualifying standards for Tokyo Olympics. K.T. Irfan (men’s 20km walk), Avinash Sable (3000m steeplechase) and Neeraj Chopra (javelin throw) were the first three Indians to attain qualifying standards for Tokyo 2020, AFI said. According to a report from news agency PTI, Bhawana hails from a farmer’s family in Kabra village, Rajsamand district, Rajasthan. She is the second Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics in the 20 km-race walk after Khushbir Kaur who participated in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Bhawana is currently posted as a Train Ticket Examiner in Kolkata. She has spoken of financial challenges and expressed the desire to be included in the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). “ I put in a lot of hard work in training over the last three months and wanted to come home in 1:28-1:29,’’ she was quoted as saying in the AFI statement.

Sandeep Kumar won the men’s race in 1:21:34, just 34 seconds outside the Olympic qualification timing. Rahul of Haryana finished second in 1:21:59 and Vikash Singh of Delhi was third in 1:22:27. “ If I am selected for Asian Championships in Japan next month, I will try to improve the time and try to qualify for Tokyo2020,” Sandeep Kumar was quoted as saying.

Cheptegei sets new world record in 5k

Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda has set a new world record in the 5km.

On February 16, 2020, he clocked 12 minutes 51 seconds over the distance, at the Monaco Run 5km. According to a report available on the website of World Athletics, he shaved 27 seconds from the previous record of 13:18 set by Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto en route to his 10km world record in Valencia on January 12.

The new record is subject to official ratification.

Jimmy Gressier of France was second in 13:18; he broke the European record of 13:29 set by Julien Wanders at the same race last year. Nick Goolab of Great Britain was third in 13:27.

Liv Westphal won the women’s race in 15:31, a French national record, the report said.

Ababel Yeshaneh sets new world record in women’s half marathon

Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh topped the women’s section of the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon with a new world record.  She clocked 1:04:31, a report dated February 21, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF) said.

Brigid Kosgei, who holds the world record for women in the full marathon, placed second in 1:04:49. Her time was also inside the previous world record of 1:04:51, set by Joyciline Jepkosgei in Valencia in 2017, the statement said. Rosemary Wanjiru took third place in 1:05:34.

Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie won the men’s race in 58:58. Fellow Kenyan runner Alexander Mutiso Munyao finished second in 59:16.

Galen Rupp, Aliphine Tuliamuk top US Olympic Marathon Trials

The US marathon team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was decided at the Olympic Marathon Trials held in Atlanta on February 29, 2020.

The men’s team will be composed of Galen Rupp, Jacob Riley and Abdi Abdirahman. The women’s team features Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego. According to Runner’s World, the course was hilly entailing 1389 feet of uphill and 1382 feet of downhill.

Tuliamuk topped among women with timing of 2:27:23; Rupp topped among men with 2:09:20.

Desiree Linden finished fourth among women with timing of 2:29:03. Jim Walmsley, well known ultrarunner, who was running his first full marathon at the trials finished in 2:15:05 to place 22nd.

Four runners from India to participate in 2020 Badwater 135

Four ultrarunners from India – Ashish Kasodekar, Mandeep Doon, Munish Dev and Praveen Sharma – have been invited to participate in the annual Badwater 135, held in the U.S.

The race is scheduled for July 6-8, 2020.

Badwater 135 is a 217 km foot race that starts in California’s Death Valley and proceeds to Mount Whitney. The start line is at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in North America at 85 meters below sea level. The race finishes at Whitney Portal at an elevation of 2530 meters. Altogether the course covering three mountain ranges, entails 4450 meters of cumulative ascent and 1859 meters of cumulative descent.

During the 2019 edition of Badwater 135, Japan’s Yoshihiko Ishikawa had set a new course record of 21 hours, 33 minutes and one second. Pamela Chapman-Markle of the US had also set a new course record for her age group of 60-69 years, finishing in 34:30:53.

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% (This photo was downloaded from the website of Nike and is being used here for representation purpose only.)

Nike’s Alphafly NEXT% set to hit the market

On January 31, 2020, World Athletics (formerly IAAF) had ruled on the controversy regarding running shoes to be used in competition.

The issue came to the fore following Nike’s introduction of its Vaporfly range which was claimed by the company to improve user’s performance and subsequently spoken of so by athletes who used it as well. Quite a few of the new records set in distance running in the recent past, featured the Vaporfly range. Later, a prototype version of the newer Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% was used by Kenyan great Eliud Kipchoge during the staged run in Vienna in October 2019, wherein he completed the marathon in just under-two hours.

Media reports about World Athletics’ ruling ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (the Games are scheduled to begin on July 24), had pointed out that the new norms spared the Vaporfly range but the Alphafly model used by Kipchoge may not make the cut as it was a prototype. Now a post dated February 5, 2020, available on the website of Nike indicates that the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% is among products slated for release in the summer of 2020. “ Nike’s newest race-day shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT% features two new Nike Zoom Air pods, more ZoomX foam and a single carbon fiber plate (all updates from its predecessor, the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%), and an ultra-breathable, lightweight Flyknit upper – all adding up to improved cushioning and running economy. The shoe is part of a suite of products releasing in summer 2020, including the Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% and Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% FlyEase, complementary training shoes that translate the principles of the Alphafly to rigorous daily use, and track spikes (the Nike Air Zoom Victory) that extend the NEXT% design ethos to new disciplines,’’ the statement said.

World Athletics in its January-end ruling said, “ from 30 April 2020, any shoe must have been available for purchase by any athlete on the open retail market (online or in store) for a period of four months before it can be used in competition. If a shoe is not openly available to all then it will be deemed a prototype and use of it in competition will not be permitted. Subject to compliance with the rules, any shoe that is available to all, but is customised for aesthetic reasons, or for medical reasons to suit the characteristics of a particular athlete’s foot, will be allowed. Where World Athletics has reason to believe that a type of shoe or specific technology may not be compliant with the rules or the spirit of the rules, it may submit the shoe or technology for study and may prohibit the use of the shoe or technology while it is under examination. Further, with immediate effect there will be an indefinite moratorium on any shoe (whether with or without spikes) that does not meet the following requirements:

  • The sole must be no thicker than 40mm.
  • The shoe must not contain more than one rigid embedded plate or blade (of any material) that runs either the full length or only part of the length of the shoe. The plate may be in more than one part but those parts must be located sequentially in one plane (not stacked or in parallel) and must not overlap.
  • For a shoe with spikes, an additional plate (to the plate mentioned above) or other mechanism is permitted, but only for the purpose of attaching the spikes to the sole, and the sole must be no thicker than 30mm.”

In its article (dated February 5, 2020) on the upcoming market introduction of the Alphafly NEXT%, Runners World pointed out that the magazine had learnt, “ the Alphafly has been measured by World Athletics—a men’s size 8.5 is 39.5 millimeters (mm) thick—so they would be competition legal based on the new guidelines that impose an immediate ban on any shoe with a sole thicker than 40 mm or shoes that contain more than one plate.’’ On February 5, 2020, The Wall Street journal also reported that Nike may offer the Alphafly NEXT% in limited quantities online by the end of the month, which will technically allow them to be eligible for the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics.

Anjali Saraogi (Photo: courtesy Anjali)

Awadh Narayan Yadav, Anjali Saraogi take top honors at IDBI Federal Kolkata Full Marathon

Awadh Narayan Yadav was the overall winner of the IDBI Federal Life Insurance Kolkata Full Marathon held on February 2, 2020. He finished the race in two hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds. Ultra-runner Tlanding Wahlang from Meghalaya finished second covering the distance in 2:30:51. Batsrang Sangma placed third with timing 2:31:43.

In the women’s segment, Anjali Saraogi was the winner with timing of 3:24:02. She was winning the race for the third year in a row. “ I chose to run this race as a strong training run. The route organization was excellent and the weather was favorable,” Anjali said. In the women’s race, Sunmbul Rahman came in second at 3:44:12. Snora Lynghkoi finished third with timing of 3:46:48.

In the half marathon segment, Hari Singh was the overall winner. He finished in 1:09:01. He was followed by L.R. Luther (1:09:11) and Kresstarjune Pathaw (1:09:56). Among women, the winner of the half marathon was Sabina Khatun. She finished the race in 1:31:35. In second position was Dateibankynmaw Marwein (1:33:25). Anita Das (1:36:04) placed third.

Deepak Bandbe (Photo: courtesy Deepak)

Deepak Bandbe in list of those automatically qualified for IAU’s Athlete of the Year 2019

Mumbai-based Deepak Bandbe, who earned a podium finish last November at the IAU 100km Asia & Oceania Championships, has been named in the list of those automatically qualified for IAU’s Athlete of the Year 2019. IAU stands for International Association of Ultrarunners.

A total of 36 athletes from around the world figure in the list based on podium finishes at various IAU competitions, the association said in a statement. Deepak had secured a bronze medal at the IAU 100km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Aqaba, Jordan, on November 23, 2019. He had finished the race in 8:04:16 hours, a national best in the category.

IAU has sought nominations for four more spots to take the list to a total of 40 athletes. The final list will be forwarded to the IAU Executive Council and IAU Member Federations, for voting. The name of the winner – IAU’s Athlete of the Year 2019 – will be announced on March 5, 2020, the statement said.

According to it, 2019 was a busy year for the sport as it was the first time in 35 years that IAU had six championships held in all the regions. They included: the IAU Trail World Championship, which took place on 8 June in Miranghado Corvo, Portugal; the second IAU 100km Americas Championships which took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 27 (it was the first international ultra-distance championship hosted in South America), the IAU 50km World Championships held on September 1 in Braşov, Romania (the first time the event was held in Europe), the IAU 24H World Championships held on October 26 in Albi, France, On 23 November the IAU 100km Asia and Oceana Championship took place on November 23 in Aqaba, Jordan (IAU’s first continental championship in the region) and the IAU 50km Africa Championship held on December 7 in Sagamu, Nigeria (the event was the first such championship hosted by the African continent).

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020-2021 Union Budget: import duty on footwear goes up again

In 2018-2019, the Union Budget’s recommendation of increased import duty on footwear (from 10 per cent to 20 per cent) had affected the price of running shoes. Room for containment, as per news reports of that period, was to be found in free trade agreements existing between India and the overseas locations of shoe manufacturing. Now the 2020-2021 Union Budget has recommended increase in import duty on footwear from 25 per cent to 35 per cent. As before, there seems to be no distinction between shoes used for sports and footwear in general. Details are awaited. The scenario will be tougher in niche sports like rock climbing, where specialized shoes are integral to the sport and volumes sold are small. In fact last year itself the importer of a leading brand of climbing shoes had told this blog that he was tapering off the business because it is tough selling performance oriented shoes at prices reflecting prevailing customs duty. An additional element of interest this year is that duty for parts of footwear has also risen from 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

As per published reports, the government allocated Rs 2826.92 crore to its 2020-21 sports budget, a rise of Rs 50 crore from the previous financial year. The biggest beneficiary under the latest round of allocations is the Khelo India scheme for development of sport at grassroot and youth level; the scheme got Rs 291.42 crore more than in the previous year. However, funds for Sports Authority of India (SAI), National Sports Development Funds, incentives for sportspersons and allotments to National Sports Federations took a hit.

Abhinav Jha (Photo: courtesy Abhinav)

Sunil Sharma, Bindu Juneja win Tuffman 24-Hour Chandigarh Stadium Run

Abhinav Jha, Deepa Yadav take top honors in 100 km

Ultra-runner Sunil Sharma was overall winner in the men’s 24-hour ultra-running event at Tuffman Chandigarh Stadium Run held over February 1-2, 2020. He covered a distance of 227.86 kilometers. Amit Kumar finished second with mileage of 218.80 km. Geeno Antony secured third position logging 209.74 km.

“ The race went off well though my target was higher,” Geeno said. According to him, he cruised along for 17 hours but found it tough thereafter because of the weather.

In the women’s race, Bindu Juneja was the winner with distance of 176.67 km covered. Deepti Chaudhary (171.23 km) finished in second. Aparna Choudhary (167.77 km) placed third.

In the men’s 100 km solo race, Abhinav Jha took top honours covering the distance in eight hours, 16 minutes and 52 seconds. Suraj Chadha (8:35:13) finished second while Amar Shiv Dev (8:45:01) was third.

“ It was a good race. I had just about 45-50 days to train as I was nursing an injury. Keeping that in mind, I had set a conservative target of 8:20. I am happy that I was able to achieve it,” Abhinav, who is a Lieutenant Commander with the Indian Navy, said. Abhinav was part of the team that represented India at the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held at Aqaba, Jordan in November 2019. Forced to sit out the championships owing to injury, he had instead crewed for the team members.

In the women’s 100 km race, Deepa Yadav was the winner. She finished in 11:44:46 hours. Aanchal Sehgal came in second at 12:31:36.

In the 12-hour race category, Ashwini G was the winner from among women; she covered a distance of 111.78 km. The first runner-up was Simran Kochhar (84.46 km) and the second runner-up, Irina Hazarika Barua (82.80 km). Ravi Singh was the winner from the men’s side with 108.05 km covered. Anwar Hussain (104.33 km) was the first runner-up and Varinder Singh (103.09 km) was the second runner-up.

Ashwini’s mileage at this event is a national best for women in the 12-hour run. Her first ultra-running event was Yercaud Ultra 50 km in February 2018. She was the winner of the 110 km segment of Malnad Ultra 2019. “ At the Tuffman event, my run went as per plan. It was a good day for me,” she said. Ashwini is likely to attempt the 50 km event at Tata Ultra later this month.

The Bergamont concept store in Mumbai (Photo: courtesy Scott Sports India)

Bergamont launches its first concept store in India

German bike brand Bergamont has launched its first concept store in India, at Wadala in Mumbai.

It is called ` Bergamont i-Ride.’

Bergamont is part of Scott Sports SA, the Swiss sports goods-company. The Swiss company acquired the German brand in 2015. According to a statement from Scott Sports India (issued February 17, 2020), Bergamont’s concept store in Mumbai is in partnership with The Cycle Worx and offers an experiential retail format designed to enhance the purchase experience. Bergamont has been growing 25 per cent year on year in the premium bicycle category in India, the statement said. The brand has targeted sales of 3200 units in 2020-2021.

The Bergamont i-Ride store will have a wide range of bikes from Bergamont to test. It also offers complete after-sales experience with fully trained staff and well-equipped service area. The store plans to host a number of engagement activities, including the Bergamont i-Ride Challenge, an endurance cycling challenge. Already present in more than 45 cities across the country, Bergamont plans to scale up the ` i-Ride’ store format to 15 stores over the next 3 years, the statement said.

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Japan’s Prime Minister, Olympics minister say Summer Olympics on track

Amid global concerns about the new coronavirus epidemic with epicenter in China, Japanese authorities have said that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead as planned. On Monday, February 3, 2020, Reuters reported that Japan’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto has said that organizers of the event are not considering cancelling it. The Summer Olympics is scheduled to start on July 24.

The report also quoted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying that Japan will stay in close contact with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to take appropriate steps and ensure that the epidemic does not affect the Games.

Meanwhile, the annual Tokyo Marathon – it is one of the World Marathon Majors – is due to take place on March 1, 2020. Its website has a post on the coronavirus issue. “ The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Japan Association of Athletics Federations and other related governmental agencies are closely monitoring this coronavirus outbreak,’’ it said. According to it, as the organizer of the Tokyo Marathon 2020, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation is working closely with these organizations and has created a response team to collect the most up-to-date information and implement safety measures accordingly. “ Concurrently, we will continue to prepare for the event while monitoring the situation, and provide further information through our Tokyo Marathon official website and social channels. We encourage all runners, volunteers and other related parties to monitor their own health and stay vigilant by adopting stringent hygiene practices,’’ the post dated January 31, 2020, said.

2020 World Athletics U20 Championships to become first major track and field meet featuring air quality analysis

The World Athletics U20 Championships Nairobi 2020 will be the first global track and field championships where air quality will be measured and analyzed, a report dated February 14, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF) said.

According to it, as part of World Athletics’ continued pilot program to measure air quality at sporting venues around the world, a Kunak air quality monitor was recently installed at the Kenyan capital’s Kasarani Stadium, the venue for this year’s World U20 Championships. It is the second air quality monitor installed in Africa by World Athletics. Earlier, a monitor was installed in Addis Ababa at the end of 2018. An air quality monitor was also installed in Yokohama ahead of last year’s World Relays.

“ The data collected from there has recently led to a peer-reviewed scientific publication, ‘’ the report said about Yokohama, adding “ air quality will be monitored at all future World Athletics Series events, including this year’s World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia and the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Minsk. A device will also soon be installed in Oregon ahead of next year’s World Athletics Championships. The data collection and analysis will help event organizers to design safer timetables, while also providing insights to the ongoing research into the correlation between air quality and the performance of athletes.’’

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / JANUARY 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Controversy over running shoes: World Athletics amends its rules

World Athletics (formerly International Association of Athletics Federations – IAAF) has amended its rules governing competition shoes.

The move is “ to provide greater clarity to athletes and shoe manufacturers around the world and to protect the integrity of the sport,’’ a press release dated January 31, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics said.

According to it, “ from 30 April 2020, any shoe must have been available for purchase by any athlete on the open retail market (online or in store) for a period of four months before it can be used in competition. If a shoe is not openly available to all then it will be deemed a prototype and use of it in competition will not be permitted. Subject to compliance with the rules, any shoe that is available to all, but is customised for aesthetic reasons, or for medical reasons to suit the characteristics of a particular athlete’s foot, will be allowed. Where World Athletics has reason to believe that a type of shoe or specific technology may not be compliant with the rules or the spirit of the rules, it may submit the shoe or technology for study and may prohibit the use of the shoe or technology while it is under examination. Further, with immediate effect there will be an indefinite moratorium on any shoe (whether with or without spikes) that does not meet the following requirements:

  • The sole must be no thicker than 40mm.
  • The shoe must not contain more than one rigid embedded plate or blade (of any material) that runs either the full length or only part of the length of the shoe. The plate may be in more than one part but those parts must be located sequentially in one plane (not stacked or in parallel) and must not overlap.
  • For a shoe with spikes, an additional plate (to the plate mentioned above) or other mechanism is permitted, but only for the purpose of attaching the spikes to the sole, and the sole must be no thicker than 30mm.

The competition referee will have the power to request that an athlete immediately provide their shoes for inspection at the conclusion of a race if the referee has a reasonable suspicion that the shoes worn by an athlete do not comply with the rules.’’

The media statement said that the rule amendments the World Athletics Council approved this week were recommended by its Assistance Review Group, an internal working group containing technical, scientific and legal experts as well as athlete representatives. “ The Assistance Review Group has concluded that there is independent research that indicates that the new technology incorporated in the soles of road and spiked shoes may provide a performance advantage and there is sufficient evidence to raise concerns that the integrity of the sport might be threatened by the recent developments in shoe technology. It has therefore recommended that further research be undertaken to establish the true impact of this technology and that a new working group, comprising biomechanics specialists and other qualified experts, be formed to oversee this research, and to assess any new shoes that enter the market, where required. Shoe manufacturers will be invited to be part of this assessment process,’’ the press release said.

Friday’s announcement by World Athletics follows months of controversy about Nike’s Vapourfly range of shoes, which many users had said improved their timing. Reporting on World Athletics’ decision, BBC noted that while the Vaporfly has been spared, that may not be the case with Alphafly, the prototype shoe worn by Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a marathon in under two hours in Vienna last year.

The World Athletics press release quoted its president Sebastian Coe as saying, “ it is not our job to regulate the entire sports shoe market but it is our duty to preserve the integrity of elite competition by ensuring that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage. As we enter the Olympic year, we don’t believe we can rule out shoes that have been generally available for a considerable period of time, but we can draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market while we investigate further. I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology. If further evidence becomes available that indicates we need to tighten up these rules, we reserve the right to do that to protect our sport.”

World Athletics will now establish an expert working group to guide future research into shoe technology (and consider any regulatory implications that that research might have), and to assess new shoes that emerge on the market. This group will report to the Competitions Commission, and ultimately to the Council. World Athletics remains open to continued dialogue with shoe manufacturers and other interested stakeholders regarding the amended rules and their impact as well as the broader question of how to balance shoe technology and innovation with World Athletics’ legitimate interest in preserving integrity in its sport, the press release said.

2020 World Athletics Indoor Championships postponed

The 2020 World Athletics Indoor Championships, due to be held in Nanjing over March 13-15, has been postponed to March 2021.

This follows the ongoing disease outbreak related to the new Coronavirus in China and since found to have surfaced in some other countries too.

“ It is with regret that we have agreed with the organisers of the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing (13-15 March 2020) to postpone the event to March 2021. We know that China is doing all it can to contain the new Coronavirus and we support them in all their efforts but it is necessary to provide our athletes, member federations and partners with a clear way forward in what is a complex and fast-moving set of circumstances.

“ The advice from our medical team, who are in contact with the World Health Organisation, is that the spread of the Coronavirus both within China and outside the country is still at a concerning level and no one should be going ahead with any major gathering that can be postponed.

“ We have considered the possibility of relocating the event to another country and would like to thank the cities that have volunteered to host the championships. However, given concerns still exist regarding the spread of the virus outside China, we have decided not to go with this option, as it may lead to further postponement at a later date.

“ The indoor season for athletics falls within a narrow calendar window (up to the end of March) and we believe we will be able to find a suitable date in 2021 to host this event. We would like Nanjing to be the host given the extensive planning and preparation they have put into this event,’’ a press release from World Athletics (formerly IAAF), dated January 29, 2020, said.

Kipruto sets new world record in 10K

Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto has set a new world record in the 10 kilometer-road race. On January 12, at Valencia Ibercaja, he clocked 26 minutes, 24 seconds to win the World Athletics Gold Label road race, a report on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF) said.

The 20 year-old took 14 seconds off the yet-to-be-ratified mark set just six weeks earlier by Joshua Cheptegei in the same city, on a different course.

“ Only the legendary Ethiopian duo Kenenisa Bekele (26:17.53) and Haile Gebrselassie (26:22.75) have recorded faster times on the track, while Paul Tergat holds the Kenyan 10,000m record at 26:27:85,’’ the report said.

Sheila Chepkirui, also of Kenya, won the women’s race in 29:46.

Bouldering facility coming up in Nerul, Navi Mumbai

Work in progress at the climbing facility coming up in Nerul, Navi Mumbai (Photo: Prashant Venugopal)

In tune with the growth of sport climbing in the Mumbai region, Nerul in Navi Mumbai is set to get its first artificial climbing wall accessible to the public. At a park, roughly five minutes-walk from the Nerul railway station, the municipal authorities have installed infrastructure capable of hosting an indoor climbing facility. A large protected shed has been created with space adequate for at least three walls. At the time of writing, two walls had been installed and painting work was underway on the walls; the climbing holds were yet to be fixed. The main wall is an imported climbing wall fabricated by the French company, Enterprise. It was shipped into the country for use in the 2016 IFSC World Cup in bouldering that was held in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. Following that edition of the event, at the 2017 IFSC World Cup held in Vashi, it was used as a warm-up wall.

Both these world cups organized by Girivihar, were sponsored in the main by Tata Trusts. There was an understanding then that the club would find means to give back to society; in the world of climbing that typically means making the sport accessible to the public. The Nerul facility helps address that, a recent Girivihar circular to its members, said. The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) “ has given tremendous support and has built a structure for the wall in Nerul NMMC park. We continue to work with NMMC for setting up the wall in the premises and hopefully make it operational in the next two months,’’ the circular dispatched in January 2020, said. In Mumbai, the club has been involved in installing bouldering walls at Poddar College in Matunga, IIT Mumbai in Powai and YMCA in Colaba. When officially commissioned, the Nerul facility will likely be the biggest one so far, supported by Girivihar, those in the know said.

Ethiopian sweep at Dubai Marathon

Debutants Olika Adugna of Ethiopia and Eric Kiptanui of Kenya outwitted seasoned marathoners to finish first and second in the men’s race at the 2020 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon, held on January 24.  They won in 2:06:15 and 2:06:17 respectively. The top ten finishers among men were separated by narrow margins. In the women’s race, Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia won clocking 2:19:38, a report on the website of World Athletics (formerly IAAF) said.

Save Kiptanui’s place on the podium for men and Risper Biyaki of Mexico who placed tenth among women, it was an Ethiopian sweep right through to tenth place in both gender categories. The top ten positions as available in the report were: Men – 1. Olika Adugna, ETH 2:06:15 / 2. Eric Kiptanui, KEN 2:06:17 / 3. Tsedat Abeje, ETH 2:06:18 / 4. Lencho Tesfaye, ETH 2:06:18 / 5. Yitayal Atnafu, ETH 2:06:21 / 6. Yihunilign Adane, ETH 2:06:22 / 7. Aychew Bantie, ETH 2:06:23 / 8. Seifu Tura, ETH 2:06:26 / 9. Chalu Deso, ETH 2:06:29 / 10. Zewudu Hailu, ETH 2:06:31 Women – 1. Worknesh Degefa, ETH 2:19:38 / 2. Guteni Shone, ETH 2:20:11 / 3. Bedatu Hirpa, ETH 2:21:55 / 4. Tigist Abayechew, ETH 2:22:45 / 5. Dera Dida, ETH 2:22:52 / 6. Hawi Feysa, ETH 2:23:36 / 7. Bezunesh Deba, ETH 2:26:59 / 8. Obst Abdeta, ETH 2:29:30 / 9. Buze Diriba, ETH 2:30:18 / 10. Risper Biyaki, MEX 2:30:59.

Avinash Sable, Srinu Bugatha, Rashpal Singh, Sudha Singh, Jyoti Gawate lead Indian competition at 2020 Tata Mumbai Marathon.

Over 55,000 people expected to participate.

Srinu Bugatha winner of the 2019 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and Tata Steel Kolkata 25k, and Rashpal Singh, silver medalist at the 2019 South Asian Games, are among Indian elite runners scheduled to participate in the 2020 edition of Tata Mumbai Marathon, due January 19, 2020. Also in the fray is Rahul Pal, winner of the 2019 Pune International Marathon.

According to a statement available on the race organizer’s website, Indian elite runners in the women’s marathon include defending champion Sudha Singh and Jyoti Gawate, bronze medalist at the 2019 South Asian Games.

In the men’s half marathon race, Avinash Sable, national record holder in 3000 meter steeplechase (he turned in a gritty performance at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha) and Shankar Man Thapa will be among contenders. Swati Gadhave and Monica Athare will spearhead the challenge in the half marathon for women.

Nitendra Singh Rawat, course record holder among Indian runners and a popular face at TMM, won’t be running this year. In a Facebook post on January 13, he informed that after winning TMM in 2019 and giving his best at the London Marathon, “ it is very disheartening to say that I will not be able to participate in the upcoming TMM 2020 and Tokyo Olympics because of my fractured knee. I am advised to give complete rest to my knee.’’

A record number of 55,322 people are expected to participate in 2020 TMM. The 17th edition of this World Athletics Gold Label Road Race, will have 9660 runners running the full marathon, 15,260 runners in the half marathon, 8032 runners in the 10 kilometer-race, 19,707 participants  in the Dream Run, 1022 runners in the Senior Citizen Run and 1596 participants in the Champion with Disability, the earlier mentioned statement said.

According to it, women’s participation has increased to 35 per cent. Outstation participation has grown by 22 per cent and full marathon participation by 15 per cent.

Shoe war heats up

The controversy over Nike’s Vaporfly shoes worn by Eliud Kipchoge during his record breaking sub-two hour marathon in Vienna last year, has gathered momentum with recent media reports indicating that World Athletics may soon rule on their legality and share prices of shoe manufacturers responding accordingly.

On January 16, leading wire service Bloomberg informed that shares of Japanese manufacturer Asics Corp, a rival to Nike, “ surged as much as eight per cent before paring gains to 4.7 per cent as of 11:41 AM that day in Tokyo, after the Times of London and others reported that World Athletics was mulling a ban for Nike’s Vaporfly shoes in professional competition. Mizuno Corp, another Japanese maker of running equipment, rose as much as 1.6 per cent.’’

Nike’s Vaporfly Next % model was the shoe of choice for Kipchoge in Vienna and Brigid Kosgei, when she broke the women’s world record in the marathon, last year in Chicago. According to the Bloomberg report, the shoes gained popularity in Japan too resulting in a fall in share price for Asics at the start of 2020.

However, thick soles, the use of carbon fiber-plates and runners who used it confirming that the shoes contributed to improving their performance rendered the Nike model controversial. There have been calls since to restore a level playing field.

(The authors, Latha Venkatraman and Shyam G Menon, are independent journalists based in Mumbai.)