Here are some thoughts concerning our first EA Athletes' Commission meeting in Lausanne. Without a doubt, the most discussed topic during those couple of days was the change in the qualification system of European Championships. It has been proposed that there will be a European League from where you could directly qualify to the championships even to the extent that the athletes gaining entry via the European league could skip the first round in the championships. A preliminary decision has been made – there will be a change in the qualification system. But we, the Athletes’ Commission, can affect the extent of the change.
The Athletes' Commission
Introducing a European League as an alternative way into championships has its challenges. Let’s look at it from both strong athletes’ and medium level athletes’ perspectives. Many of the strongest European athletes race the Diamond League, thus the European League has to be attractive enough for them to participate. They don’t need the League for getting in to European Championships; they make the necessary standard anyway. It was proposed that a motive for the strongest athletes to attend European League could be (when qualifying) the ability to skip the first round at the European Championships. Sounds somewhat reasonable for the tree-round events but what about the field events and the two-round running events? Straight to the final? Seems harsh. The system would favor the strongest athletes and make their chances in the championships even stronger. In my opinion qualifications belong to championships and if they are eliminated, something essential from our sport is lost. Plus, how many athletes would in the end want to skip the first round?
From the medium level athletes’ perspective the qualification procedure to Europeans gets more difficult. First of all, how many athletes would be taken in the European League meets per event? At the moment EAA races’ intake is not very high. If the level becomes high, the medium level athletes will not fit in. Would an athlete who is on the verge of breaking to the international level get in? For these “challengers” this could mean dropping out of the international circuit.
Let’s suppose that there will be an entry standard, a bit tougher than before, plus this new European League qualification possibility. How many could qualify from the League? Let’s say that there would be six meets in the European League and each event held in two of the meets. You would need to win or be second to get a direct entry to Europeans. In that case, maximum four athletes per event could qualify. That doesn’t sound so bad. However, in two-round events that is almost half of the finalists. What about practicalities? In the running events with the curve, which lanes would the direct qualifiers get in the semi-finals?
The European League might also make the job of managers more complicated. What would be the motive for organizers to pay athletes if they anyway need to attend to fight for a direct pass to Europeans?
All in all, I see that the change in the qualification system can make it more difficult for newcomers and underdogs to reach European Championship level. There are many questions and a lot of pondering around this topic, but the fact is that some kind of a change is coming, so we should start preparing, working harder and raising the bar for ourselves.