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A USATF Rule Says All Americans are Not Equal…

By: John Elliott,

Starting April 1 2010, the USATF stopped allowing certain citizens from participating in its “USA championships.” Noting this, a proposed rule change (Item 6 of the rules changes), was presented by the RRCA to rectify that and bring us back to the situation where we were prior to April 1.  During its Annual Meeting, USA Track & Field has an opportunity to say that all Americans are equal - or not - and if you are at the USATF Annual Meeting or know someone who is, ask them to pipe up on this one.

We don’t care about the excuse or reason - but in our opinion, any rule that excludes certain American citizens from being allowed to participate in races called “USA Championship” races is against all American values, possibly illegal and just plain wrong.

So what’s the issue? Apparently USA Championships aren’t USA Championships?
To combat the abuse of recruiting and granting immediate citizenship to athletes in countries like Bahrain and Qatar, the IAAF issued a rule that new citizens of a country could not participate in WORLD Championships until they have been a citizen of a country for two years. Based on that rule, the USATF has decided that if you aren’t eligible to represent the USA at the WORLD Championships then you can’t even run the USA Championships?!? The IAAF rule never suggested that any citizen can’t run any race in their own country - just that they can’t come to the World Championships, but it’s the excuse that USATF is using to say some Americans should be excluded from USA Championships races.

We understand by the name that the USA Olympic Marathon Trials race is a race to select members for an Olympic team - so in that case it would make sense to exclude those ineligible to be on the team. But, the race this January in Houston (for example) is called the “USA Half Marathon Championships” or the “World Half Marathon Championships Selector Race?” As a “USA Championships,” it should be open to ALL Americans. And what about all of those championships that aren’t selectors for anything: 5K, 8K, 10K, 15K, 20K, 25K…. Hey, it takes five plus years to become an American citizen and to tell people who love this country and its values, go through the effort and are accepted as Americans - to tell those people that they’re not really Americans and we don’t want you running in our Championships - that is just wrong. Isn’t it? American’s great runners include many who were not originally American: Alberto Salazar, Meb Keflezighi, Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong - to name a few. Let’s welcome people to our shores, not exclude them. If they make it to citizenship and can vote, pay taxes, serve in the military, then… Welcome To America with equal rights for all.

The Conversation at the USATF Annual Meeting
It looks like this rule to allow all Americans to run in American Championships might not get passed. Many don’t know what’s going on and if you haven’t been briefed on this you might be tempted to gloss over the 116 rule change proposals and miss Rule Proposal 6 - the one we are writing about. When talking with the members, most individuals seem to agree that it makes no sense or is un-American to exclude some Americans from the Championships - and ultimately, the membership will get the vote. But, the LDR (Long Distance Running) and Rules committees will make the recommendation to membership and whatever they recommend will most likely be rubber-stamped at the General Session - there are 116 items after all that the membership will raise their hands for. So it’s the Men’s and Women’s LDR committees (about 20 members in attendance) that will have the most influence. The joint Men’s/Women’s LDR will meet at 5:00PM Friday to discuss - again - this issue. And then it will be discussed at the 10:00AM Saturday meeting on the Rules Committee - but they will likely go along with the recommendation of LDR.

The early discussions by the committees appear negative. The conversations were based on how confusing it would be if someone won the USA championships and then wasn’t eligible go to the World Championships. Our response: i) that’s really not that confusing - everyone can understand that, ii) it happens quite often that the champions don’t go on to the Worlds - nothing new, iii) it will be a rare occurence anyway… And isn’t USATF supposed to support American running and shouldn’t we support those who want to compete in running?

We sat in the Men’s LDR Executive meeting and heard the confusion issue. But in the LDR meeting we also had to suffer hearing someone (not a committee member, just a general member) say: “[Immigrants] aren’t really Americans and never are. Meb Keflizighi isn’t really an American, he’s African.” Ugh - we hope that’s not a predominant feeling and in no way driving this rules decision.

What Can You Do?

If you’re as outraged as we are - that something called the “USA Championships” is not open to ALL Americans… Then:
i) if you are at the USATF Annual Meeting, show up on Saturday 10:00AM for the Rules Meeting and the Sunday Closing Session and speak up!
ii) if you’re not at the USATF Annual Meeting, contact someone who is - especially any members of the LDR committees, rules committees or delegations…
iii) send an email - soon, to one or more of the USATF governance (see board of directors, LDR Committee Chairs, Rules Committee Chair and more email addresses at
iv) spread the word… will report more after the weekend.

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