JOHANNESBURG - The IAAF will introduce a new global rankings system next month which will serve as qualification for major championships and the Olympic Games. The introduction of the system has been hailed as a more transparent process which will also remedy some of the qualifying standard issues South Africa has wrestled with over the last few years.
Athletes will earn points based on a combination of result and places, depending on the level of the competition with the window opening on September 7 and closing a year later on September 6. Renowned SA middle-distance coach, Jean Verster, said the rankings system is just another way for athletes to qualify.
“There are ways for countries to introduce their own, harsher qualifying criteria,” Verster said. “It is becoming more difficult for countries to do this. There are three or four ways so qualifying and the one is not more important than the other.”
Each nation will still be limited to three athletes per individual event and they can earn selection by meeting the IAAF’s entry standards. The third way is to qualify by wildcard as a defending champion or winner of the 2019 Diamond League. The ranking system will require athletes to perform on a consistent basis as it will be based on their average score over a certain number of competitions in a defined period of time.
Top sprint coach Hennie Kriel believed the rankings system would not have a major influence in the actual selection of teams. “The US would, for instance, still follow their system where they host trials and select the top-three athletes, even though they are not among the top three on the rankings,” Kriel said. “Countries aren’t obligated to select according to the rankings and an athlete could be ranked among the top 10 and the federation can still opt not to select you.”
While Kriel was sceptical rankings system’s influence on improving the overall selection criteria, he was optimistic that it would lift the level of competition. “What I like is that it is transparent and it enhances performance quality and athletes need to know they need to get into better competitions and run faster times,” Kriel said. “You can follow your progress as the rankings lists are released.”
Athletes will earn more points at major competitions, such as the Olympic Games and World Championships, while they can still add to their score at a grassroots level as long as the competitions comply with IAAF rules and regulations. This will go a long way in standardising competitions around the world and would hopefully address poor organisation, as was the case at the recent African Championships in Nigeria.
Athletics South Africa (ASA) chief executive Richard Stander said while South Africa had been following a rankings system for years they would place greater emphasis on it when selecting teams.
“All the federations from around the world use the IAAF criteria as a foundation for developing their own document,” Stander said. “The IAAF initiative will take all the athletes’ performances which will give them the averages.”
The IAAF will also introduce overall rankings which compare all athletes in all disciplines to rank all the male and female athletes in the world. Retired 400m hurdles record holder LJ van Zyl said the rankings system should have an overall positive influence on the sport both locally and at an international level.
“I see the cut-off date for the World Championships is September 6 which means athletes would have to move their programmes six weeks ahead,” Van Zyl said. “It is great that they are publishing it now and if you are smart you and your coach start planning now for next year to ensure you at least rank below the quota set in each event.”