The IAAF’s decision to drop the 5,000 meters from its Diamond League track and field series has been met with strong resistance from Ethiopia and Kenya, where one former world champion accused the sport’s governing body of trying to “kill long-distance running.”
The Ethiopian Athletics Federation has written to IAAF president Sebastian Coe asking the governing body to reconsider the change, which comes into effect from next year and was part of a larger overhaul of the series.
Athletics Kenya said it would also argue for the 5,000 to be restored and would ask African nations to come together in opposition to the IAAF’s decision at a meeting of the African track body next month.
The IAAF this week announced a plan to revamp the Diamond League from 2020, reducing the series to 12 meetings and a finals event. There will now be 24 disciplines at each meet — 12 for men and 12 for women.
The 5,000 meters was one of the disciplines to be cut, leaving the 3,000 as the longest race on the schedule.
“They want to kill long-distance running,” two-time 10,000-meter world champion Moses Tanui of Kenya said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “I think (the reason) is the dominance of our athletes in long distances.”
Ethiopia’s opposition came in a letter from track federation interim president Derartu Tulu. She wrote in Thursday’s letter addressed to Coe: “We totally disagree with the decisions made.”
Tulu, a two-time Olympic champion in the 10,000 meters, urged the IAAF to reconsider.
″(It’s) not fair to countries like ours who are very competitive in long-distance running, and these distances are our cultural sports and also our identity,” she wrote.
The Diamond League is the highest-profile athletics competition outside of the world championships and the Olympics. But its format underwent a yearlong review in an attempt to find a product that was more pleasing to television viewers and more engaging for fans.
The changes were aimed at creating “a faster-paced 90-minute television event” for each meet, the IAAF said. In an effort to find a more compact, TV-friendly format, the 5,000 meters was one of the events to lose out.
In a statement to the AP on Friday, the IAAF noted that last year only three regular-season Diamond League meetings opted to stage a 5,000-meter race for men, and only two put on a women’s 5,000. From next year, meets will still have the option of including a 5,000, just outside the 90-minute TV window.
“We made the decision to reduce the 5,000m distance to a 3,000m distance based on clear market feedback from the broadcasters and fans,” the IAAF said.
Both the Ethiopian and Kenyan federations also complained about a lack of consultation with them or their athletes before the IAAF announced the changes. The IAAF said it did receive feedback from distance runners.
Still, the 5,000 at the Diamond League gave Kenyan distance runners precious chances to earn a living in prize money as well as prepare for the worlds and the Olympics, Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei said.
“That chance has been curtailed and therefore we are appealing to the IAAF to consider that position,” Tuwei said.