Racewalking sold off at the olympic “marketplace”. IAAF RW Committe proposes change race distances (deleting 50Km and 20Km)

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The fight to save the racewalking is not over yet. After the attempt in April 2017 (submerged by the protests of racewalker all over the world), the IAAF RW Committee is again proposing to remove the 50Km and 20Km.

An email from IAAF RW Committee was sent on January 10 to the Member Federations of each country (with an invitation to circulate among athletes and coaches and an invitation to sent answers and suggestions to luis.saladie@iaaf.org by January 28), claiming that now <<is the time for radical changes>> to make our discipline <<more attractive in the marketplace>>. The letter contains proposals for change racewalking and is downloadable from this link (in English and also in Italian translation).

My disappointment, in addition to the concerns on the introduction of the RWECS (Race Walking Electronic Control System, electronic control of loss of contact), focuses mainly on the third proposal, which would provide from 2021 the cancellation of 20Km and 50Km replacing them with two new races, on 10Km (track or road) and 30Km. This change according to the IAAF RW Committee would make our discipline <<more attractive in the marketplace>>.

I publish my answer here with my reasons, which of course I will send tomorrow  to the email luis.saladie@iaaf.org. There were other responses from the Australian champion Jared Tallent and another 30 international racewalkers (here the joint answer with really valid counter-proposals), in addition to an accurate analysis of Tim Erickson (“Heel and Toe” n. 17A – 1716A16) which also contains the answers sent to the IAAF by Stuart Cooper (President of Victorian Race Walking Club), David Sim (President of  Racewalking New Zealand) e Peter Marlow (former international RW judge and responsible for the RW commission of the UK Athletics Federation)

I invite you to do the same thing quickly and before 28 February, racewalking needs us. #SAVETHERACEWALKING

Dear Luis

I received the IAAF letter from the Swiss Federation (I’m a rw judge in Switzerland). I regret not having received any information from the Italian Federation (I’m Italian, I’m a former walker and I’m regularly registered as a coach in Italy), ironic thing because Maurizio Damilano is Italian like me. Regardless of this, I regret that the timing of communication is in any case inadequate to truly involve the world of racewalking.

Here are my answers to IAAF RW Committee:

  • Response to the proposal 1: Obviously I agree on the two individual events for men and women, also because after the battle for the women’s 50Km I do not see why go back. As for the innovative formats I am open to some valid proposals (for example the mixed relay could work), provided that this is not a “circus” (races over too short distances highlight even more critical judgment point of our discipline) and is an addition that does not replace the 20Km and 50Km individual races.
  • Response to the proposal 2: I am not totally opposed to Race Electronic Control System (RWECS), but there are too many doubts about the system (as surely will have shown to Committee the high-level racewalkers). The doubts are many (too many) and have not been clarified. The Committee has been working on this system for a long time as a solution to all ills, but I think it is more correct that the RWC transparently proposes a working prototype to be tested by athletes before making any decision and especially before hastily establishing application times.
    In any case, as a judge, I think that the greatest critical points in the judgment of rw are in 20Km and shorter distances, while in the 50Km, given the duration of the race, I do not see particular problems. I am convinced that a jury of 8+1 judges of international level, engaged in the judgment of a 20km race with a maximum of 50 professional walkers competing on a good road of at least 2km circuit, is perfectly able to adequately assess the technical gesture of all athletes without using the technology; in the case of more than 50 athletes competing, for example on 1Km circuits with points of the path too narrow in width, it is clear that the judge is not in the optimal conditions to work good. Therefore, while assessing technological solutions without establishing risky deadlines, the Committee should probably also consider more practical solutions that can help the judges work.
  • Response to the proposal 3: I think that the distances of 20Km and 50Km must remain unchanged. The 50Km is historically the essence of racewalking, an epic race that characterizes us compared to other disciplines, we have seen a recent demonstration at the Rio 2016 Olympics, therefore I am amazed that the Committee can still propose the cancellation. The 10Km alternative is ridiculous, since in in the past had already been eliminated from the program of major international events and considering that by shortening the distance, the problems of judgment would certainly increase. The alternative of 30Km is a strange middle ground that would upset the preparation of athletes taking away another special feature of our discipline, that is the uniqueness of the fifty and the twenty athlete; moreover on 30Km the same problems of judgment that we have for the 20Km will recur, it is not a great solution. The 30Km can never be like 50Km; at a time when extreme endurance sports (such as Triathlon and Trail Running) are becoming popular, the only hypothesis to replace the 50Km (strength of our discipline that obviously has not been sufficiently valued) is suicidal behavior. Rather the 50Km should be restored on a other day than 20Km, in order to give the possibility to the most talented and poliedric athletes to compete in both distance,s and the judges to work better with the right mental recovery between the races.
  • Response to the proposal 4: I do not think that deadlines can be established yet, and with all due respect this is the fault of the IAAF Committee that I do not think worked transparently (see also what was happening in April 2017 unbeknownst to most of the world’s walkers).

Finally I add some further considerations and suggestions:

  • If really want to involve the world of racewalking in its “evolution”, perhaps the Committee must change its way of putting itself and communicating. In addition to this formal email from IAAF RW Committee, was enough to make an official statement via the IAAF website and related social pages, so they would have been really alerted all stakeholders. Moreover, the few racewalkers of the smaller states have been cut off, most probably not even warned by their federation; maybe instead of just trusting collaboration of federations, would have been better to warn directly also the specialized websites that in the world make real propaganda of racewalking. I do not think I’m wrong if I say that in many cases it is more useful to racewalking the support of a few RW lovers rather than the disinterest of an entire federation. If the message is valid for all athletes and coaches (and also judges) must be made available to all, we are in 2019 and we have many channels for the dissemination of information, including social media.
  • I was very impressed by the sentence in the letter IAAF <<adapt to the changing world marketplace for participants, spectators, media and sponsors>>. In companies, when managers talk about “adapt to the changing world marketplace” means that soon there will be a flurry of layoffs, and therefore that the managers have already made their decisions and are just looking for excuses.  In our case if we talk about “market” then it means that the RW is a “product”, then must first ask yourself the right questions “What are the strengths and weaknesses of the product? Did I know how to sell my product? Did I properly advertise my product? Did I know how to enhance my product? Have I been able to explain to the world what my product is?”; it seems to me instead that the approach of the IAAF Committee is that of the company that failing to sell the product to the world, then is convinced that is the product that is wrong. Racewalking is a hight quality product (with a strength of 50Km) that must be protected and enhanced without necessarily distorting it; if there are problems to “sell” the RW product , it may be also that the seller is not good enough in his work.
  • It is evident that there is no global communication project that can help the expansion of our discipline , in order to spread it adequately and have the interest of the general public and therefore of the sponsors and the media. I imagine that the Maurizio Damilano’s Committee has worked in this area over the years, so I wonder what the results are? We have had an exponential growth of athletes? Unfortunately I do not think so.
    I did a simple test by going to youtube, and I tried to search for a video with keywords “race walking iaaf” finding this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z47KyUUiQHU ; I understand that it was done many years ago, I understand that maybe it was aimed at a specific audience, but not only from a communicative point of view it is a deadly bore. Besides, together with great champions (like Jefferson Perez and Robert Korzeniowski) are inserted athletes “fallen” in doping that I do not think deserve to be considered models to follow, not even from a strictly technical point of view. This video, for example, is a serious communication error, it should be ousted from the first positions of the search engines thanks to a new video by IAAF Committee that explains racewalking in a captivating and exhaustive way, that can bring new people to our discipline. The world of communication now relies on thematic portals, dedicated social pages that “hammer” the people in order to “sell the product”, so first of all the evolution of racewalking must be in the communication of what it is. See for example what the website wearetennis.com does for tennis, it is a fantastic example of what has not been done so far in the RW world. If can be useful, I offer myself FOR FREE to the IAAF Committee and to any association of walkers or federation anywhere in the world that needs it, for advice/consulting on communication or to activate a website dedicated to the RW or properly structured social pages, provided that everything is organized worldwide to connect RW lovers around the world. I repeat, FOR FREE and without ulterior motives (as I have always done for racewalking).
  • Also requires a global coordination of RW judges, athletes, coaches worldwide, relying not only on federations but also on individual associations of true RW lovers (and in the world there are very valid examples) so as to create joint initiatives to promote the discipline from the local level up to the international level, in order to make the great events  (team world championship or even RW meetings) an event day with initiatives dedicated to the general public.


Best regards
Stefano La Sorda
RW Judge
RW Coach