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Olympian Sarah True calls out ITU over Hamburg world championship

Some in the triathlon community are critical of World Triathlon's last-minute decision to name Hamburg the 2020 world championship

When it announced that WTS Hamburg would be the 2020 world championship, World Triathlon made it known that they were “contractually obligated” to host a world championship this year. After Montreal and Bermuda were cancelled, Hamburg was the final option for the sport’s governing body – even it if was less than two weeks away.

“Following the World Triathlon Series current contractual obligations, the decision was made to award the World Championship Titles in this race, with the Mixed Relay World Championships also taking place in Hamburg on September 6,” the ITU said in a release on August 25. “Start lists for the event are currently full for the male, female and Mixed Relay races, with current World Champions Katie Zaferes (USA) and Vincent Luis (FRA) ready to toe the start line along with double Olympic medalist Jonathan Brownlee (GBR) and multiple World Champions such as Mario Mola (ESP), Flora Duffy (BER) or Vicky Holland (GBR), among many others. Quotas will be increased in 10 athletes per gender to allow 65 men and 65 women to compete.”

Matthew Sharpe won’t be competing in Hamburg this year – no Canadians will be able to enter the world championship.

Related: Edmonton gets 2021 worlds, Montreal and Bermuda cancelled

Canadians unable to compete

While those start lists might have been full, there are lots of high-ranking athletes who will not be able to compete in Hamburg. Canada, for example, can’t send any athletes.

In a statement, Triathlon Canada’s Chief Executive Officer Kim Van Bruggen said: “There is no feasible solution to racing ITU events at this time without significant risks, thus Triathlon Canada cannot endorse or support any event on the current ITU calendar for Canadian athletes to target.”

“Triathlon Canada has been consistent with its support of the federal travel advisories, the COC/CPC’s position on the postponed Games and the continued risk mitigations that Canadian citizens are upholding,” Eugene Liang, Triathlon Canada’s High Performance director confirmed in an email last week when we first reported on the Hamburg situation. “Additionally, we have continued to work with ITU to inform them that Triathlon Canada has yet to have confirmation of travel medical insurance that will cover any COVID related issues during a federal travel advisory. As the ITU rules require the NSO to verify insurance for all athletes we put on the start lists, Triathlon Canada is unable to place athletes on the start list until we can confirm an insurer will cover COVID related issues during the travel advisory.”

After learning about the changes in Hamburg Kristian Blummenfelt, last year’s WTS Grand Final champion, announced that he would be skipping Challenge Davos this weekend in order to focus his efforts towards Hamburg.

TrueTube rant

Members of the triathlon community have spoken out about the decision to hold the worlds. Sarah True, a two-time Olympian who finished fourth at the London Games and fourth at the Ironman World Championship in 2018, posted a video today on YouTube titled “Sarah Rants: ITU’s Big Blunder.”

“Let’s just say I am not supportive of this decision,” True says in the video. “Is this fair for the majority of athletes? No.”

True cites a number of reasons that she feels World Triathlon should not be hosting a world championship event in Hamburg next week, including:

Distance – the Hamburg event is a sprint-distance race (750 m swim, 20 km bike, 5 km run). Grand final and world championship races are traditionally held over the Olympic-distance, a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike and a 10 km run. “It’s basically like saying to a 1,500 m runner that next week, your world championship will be an 800 m [race].”

Timing – athletes were given less than two weeks notice that the event would be a world championship.

Travel restrictions – with so many countries unable to send athletes, is this really a world championship?

Testing availability and increased COVID cases in countries such as Spain and France. “Should we be encouraging travel at this time?” True asks. “The optics of encouraging travel during a pandemic are not good.”

Olympic selection – since there are likely to be so few events available for athletes to prove their eligibility for an Olympic team and that teams will be picked based on discretion rather than results, hosting this event is “forcing athletes to make a decision they shouldn’t have to make.”

Level playing field – thanks to the inequities of training availability around the world “this is not fair to the athletes,” True says.

2012 Olympic silver medalist Javier Gomez agreed with True on twitter today:

Brett Sutton, who coaches Olympic gold and silver medalist Nicola Spirig, is also critical of the decision. In a post on trisutto.com he wrote:

“Not only does this ridiculous decision prove it, but worse it is disrespectful to all their athletes having to deal with travel restrictions, and in some cases still in lock down unable to travel. Your reward for this problem is, we will run a World Championship that some of our athletes can’t attend by law! What about feelings for these athletes?

This is just another illustration that all entities in triathlon, the ‘custodians’ of the sport have no interest in what is best for their athletes, but the organisation is the only important thing to protect.

It is my fervent hope that all national federations will aggressively protest this outrageous decision. Back bone is now needed to stop this, at once.”

The Professional Triathletes Organisation board co-president Rachel Joyce also spoke out on the issue in a twitter thread today: