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Demystifying IAAF invitations

Breaking down what it means to get an invitation from the IAAF to compete at the World Championships

IAAF World Indoor Championships

Athletes are only one week away from the first day of the Doha World Championships and Team Canada is sending an extremely strong squad. The team is primarily made up of runners with previous World Championship experience, but there are a few rookies to watch for at the championship.

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Athletics Canada named their 2019 World Championship team on August 30 and followed the criteria that they’d published very closely. Previous criteria stated that Athletics Canada would consider IAAF invitations, but the 2019 criteria said that no athlete would be taken on an invitation to worlds. While AC was very clear on their stance towards invitations, other federations were not, which left athletes wondering if they’d be given the opportunity to compete.

What is an IAAF invitation?

Iñaki Gomez is a former Athlete Representative with Athletics Canada and is now the chair of the IAAF Athletes’ Commission. Gomez says that he remembers 2015 as the first year when IAAF invitations were handed out to runners. “An IAAF invitation is given to a runner when the IAAF hasn’t filled their quota for a certain event. So if they’ve allotted 45 spots in an event, and the projected quota isn’t filled, they’ll work their way down the list (world rankings) inviting people.”


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However, according to the IAAF, it’s up to the National Sporting Organization (NSO) to decide whether they would like to accept the invitation on behalf of the athlete. Gomez believes that the invitations should be given to athletes, but sometimes NSOs decide to forgo the invitation. Gomez says this is typically because invitations come late and flight tickets and logistical arrangements become expensive and difficult. For example, the 2019 invitations went out on September 6 for a championship that starts only 21 days later. Ultimately, Gomez believes that every athlete should be given the opportunity to compete should they get an invitation. “If they’re invited, just send the athlete. You never know whether that experience will be valuable down the road. More often than not, they go and it’s experience. An athlete learns and comes back better the next time.”

What an invitation did for Canadian Lindsey Butterworth

Butterworth is the 2018 national 800m champion and was named to the Worlds team on an invitation in 2017. “I was competing at the Francophone Games in 2017 when I found out three days before leaving that I had received an invitation from the IAAF and Athletics Canada had accepted it.”

Butterworth admits that her preparations weren’t ideal for the 2017 championship, but she feels that it was an amazing opportunity that will allow her to be more competitive this time around. “I think it’s very important for athletes to be given the opportunity to compete at this level whenever possible, as it definitely helps their development. Leading into the World Championships in Doha, I feel much more prepared. If I was not given the opportunity in 2017, I think I would be feeling overwhelmed.”

Grey areas in criteria

Phil Norman is a British steeplechaser who received an invitation to the 2019 World Championships but his NSO declined his spot. This was entirely within their right to do, but is a tough pill to swallow for the athlete. British Athletics rules state that for an athlete to be accepted on an invitation, they need to be in medal contention.

“Medal contention” is not an obvious category. It’s also hard to explicitly identify a medal contender ahead of the games. There are always hopefuls, but runners can both falter and come up with big performances at championships. It’s grey areas like these that leave the fate of an athlete to the discretion of a NSO. And such a large emphasis on medal contention negates the value of having Worlds experience.

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