One year after introducing the new Pro License for WTC owned Ironman and 70.3 events, a drastic revision is being made to the policy, so much so it unrecognisable. Having written about the orginal pro license extensively already, I wanted to share my thoughts again.



The full text of the proposal an be found here, but I have pulled out the relative lines where necessary. In brief, the top ranked athletes come 1st September are invited to the Championships. Ranking points are acrewed from a maximum of 5 races (no more than 3 70,3 for IM athletes) during the season. Different races have a different number of points available in line with the size of the prize purse. Points are determined by finishing position. ie not all first places are equal.

    The 5 primary goals should be noted;

(i) Rewarding the sport's best athletes for their performances
(ii) Creating income opportunities for new and regional pros
(iii) Qualifying the most deserving athletes to the World Championships
(iv) Controlling the number of athletes qualifying for the World Championships to assure fair and exciting racing
(v) Creating additional media interest in pro races through points standings and more frequent head-to-head racing


    There are quite a few lengthy blogs going around, so if you want to catch my main points, scroll down to the bottom of the page and see the conclusion.

Positives of the Pro Qualification Program


Consultation

There is a Pro Athlete Consultation taking place. After dropping the old new rules overnight, this is an improvement, but really, the importance of communicating in business is something the owners of a such a powerful multi national ought to have picked up already. I hope they listen.

It would be nice to be part of that consultation. However, as one of those athletes that the WTC lost due it's original rule change, I would very much appreciate having my views heard. At the moment consultation is only with those who have forked out for a pro license this year. I'm sending them my views anyway.

Money Matters

Abolishment of the % rules. No longer do athletes need to finish within 8% of the winner to be eligible for qualification, nor do athletes need to be within 5% of the winner to be eligible for prize money. This last rule has been particularly disasterous in practice, as sometimes the podium positions in women's race go home empty handed, so it is very good to see it go.

There is no mention of having to pay an additional membership fee to race Kona or Clearwater (though it is not explicitly stated that it is being removed). This was an insult to those who had qualified and I am very glad to see this being dropped.

It is stated there will be an increase in prize money! "The committee....

 .....concluded that the current pro incentive policies, which have been in place for over 25 years, are outdated" I didn't need a committee to tell you that. $50,000 25 years ago is the equivalent of $102,000 today. Inflation has meant that the WTC is paying athletes 50% less than 25 years ago, and they only just worked it out?! Unless the WTC immediately doubles all prize money they are still taking the p!ss. I fail to see how this is anything but out right contradictory to Primary Objective (i) - "Rewarding the sport's best athletes for their performances " Every year, the value of winnings goes down. Looking at the early figures for 2011, I can see no discernable difference in prize money.

Negative Points of the Pro Membership Program

Capping field size does not promote competition, it hinders it

"The top 50 male and top 30 female pros* in the (rankings) at the end of each Qualifying Year will qualify to race in Kona." But why...
"Controlling the number of athletes qualifying for the World Championships to assure fair and exciting racing"
(Primary objective 4) Oh okay.

Please can someone explain why there is such an urgent need to cap the numbers of athletes at Kona and Clearwater?

By capping the field size, the average finish time will improve (probably, see below) due to just having the top half of the World Championship field present, but does it make the standard of performances any better? If I go back to 2006-2009 and scrub off the bottom half of the results, does it suddenly make the actual RACE (leading times) any better? Does it make it more exciting? No, why would it?!

If your argument is to reduce drafting (legitimate or otherwise), again, by removing the weaker half of the field, it will do nothing to spread the top guys out. Drafting will be the same, reducing the field size will not make for a fairer race.The solution is obvious - Time Trial Start.
   
Geography

So where are all the 70.3 races in the World? Here

Little is said of 70.3 qualification requirements?! Assuming it is 5 races to count, you soon see that being in Europe (where 3 of the races have historically been on consecutive weekends), South America, Australia, Africa or Central Asia will necessitate expensive long distance travel, on multiple occasions.

Timing

With qualification unsecure right up until the end of August, athletes may have to enter a last minute IM to get enough points. Few people can recover in 6 weeks and put in a good Kona perfromance, especially as the last minute IM may be a long haul flight away as discussed above.

Weighting of Races

The WTC has taken it upon itself to rank the value of all races. I do not know how this was decided, historical size of pro field? I fear not with any kind of geograophical perspective. Races with a smaller prize purse are also of less value in the points table....all wins are not equal. In fact a win is equal to an 8th in differently ranked 70.3 events. This does not sound right to me, I would like to understand the reasoning behind the points table. Again, considering Geography, your more 'local' races may be second teir events. Therefore a prolific winner of five 70.3 races will not qualify if someone else had come 7th 5 times in another set of events. Does this sound right? Or once, again, this geographically challenged athlete is forced to spend more money on long distance flights to chase qualification.

Very few athletes can be successful at IM and 70.3. Why does Kona qualification consider so many 70.3 performances? (So they can make athletes more beholden to racing WTC events as the athlete fears losing qualification........how dare you think such a thing, stop that cynical chat right now). So winning an IM can be trumped by two 7th place finshes in a 70.3. Does this sound right, when a Kona Qualification is on the line? If I was an IM athlete I would use my IM races very sparingly and try and qualify predominately off the back of 70.3 results.

Bottom Line: So does it really stand true to the 3rd Primary Objective - "Qualifying the most deserving athletes to the World Championships." If you win an IM and don't deserve to go, who does? Apparently the guy with two 7th place finishes in 70.3.

The new Pro Qualification Program is not progressive and hinders the development of the sport.

Athletes outside the very, very top eschelons will be left fighting for points up until September. A lot of the best IM peformances come from athletes who race very sparingly, with only 1 ironman a year. This forces athletes to race more. Athletes will come to Kona tired and over raced, their performances will be testament to this (so maybe average finish time won't improve?!). It may well promote added media interest, Primary Objective (v), in the run up to the Championships, but I fear the main event will dissapoint.

For reaons discussed above under, 'Geography, Weighting and Timing' the new license hinders athletes who are unfortunate enough to have 'second teir' races as their local races as their performances are worth far less, and thus forces upon them the additonal expense of long distance travel, which few can afford. So how is the developing the sport or athletes?

The first incarnation of the license made athletes loyal to the WTC until they qualified, or for a minimum of 3 events (pro license is equlivalent to 3 race entries) but now it makes athletes loyal for the whole season, in fear of their qualification spot. The WTC has a strangle hold on the sport..


 ....and it is tightening it's grip.

Primary Objective (ii) "Creating income opportunities for new and regional pros" This one completely baffels me. New or regional pros can purchase a day license for $500 (IM) or $250 (70.3), interestingly how much it cost to enter orginally. I fail to see how this creates new income opportunites. They will only get somewhere in the sport if the upgrade to the full $750, which if they do well in their trial race they will do anyway. Or, if they don't perform well, they won't upgrade and will have saved themselves some money - but this is not the same as creating an income opportunity. If you do well enough to get prize money in your first race, you are not going to cash in there, you will go the whole way and they full license and then it is business as usual.

The WTC is also proposing a scholarship scheme for athletes from developing countries to reduce the cost of the license. Whilst this is laudable I think the WTC is showing how uniformed it really is. Does it not realised how much of a burden the existing license fee is for athletes in developed countries, UK, America, I know many people who can't afford the $1050 it would cost them to reach Clearwater this year...and the prize money for 10th, in the World, doesn't even cover the cost for the license, let alone travel. The WTC needs to go back and look at it's number book again.

Conclusion

(i) Rewarding the sport's best athletes for their performances
  - If you talking about consistent results then possibly, but a lot of the best Championship results come from athletes who race sparingly, forcing them to compete head to head for places up until September will probably damage performance. If the WTC wants to reward Pro athletes, they need to instantly double prize purses to be in line with inflation over the last 25 years. Then add some more, due to added media, popularity and money in the sport as a whole. 

(ii) Creating income opportunities for new and regional pros - A day license is as much an entry fee last season. If they do well, they will upgrade to a full license and are just like everyone else.

(iii) Qualifying the most deserving athletes to the World Championships - Two 7th places in a 70.3 can equal an Ironman victory in the points table. This is not right.

(iv) Controlling the number of athletes qualifying for the World Championships to assure fair and exciting racing - How does reducing the field size make for a better race? Those who qualify are more tired before their Championships because they have been chasing points, once there, they are going to be just as tightly packed on the bike (legal or otherwise), there will just be less of them in total. How does that make it more fair?

(v) Creating additional media interest in pro races through points standings and more frequent head-to-head racing - Probably true, but will the athletes benefit from this....will more media coverage equal more money. It will only benefit the athletes if the WTC promotes athletes sponsors better, as in Formula 1, list the name and the sponsor. eg Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, Chrissie Wellington of Cannondale, only then will it mean something to the athletes.

Bottom Line: This is the worst incarnation yet. It forces additional expense on athletes yet does nothing to compensate for this with increased size and depth of prize money. This is an ill convceived, misinformed power play from a greedy Private Equity group who are trying to monopoloise the pro field by holding qualifcation spots hostage. Shame on you.


................Can someone remind me, what was so wrong with the original system? What was wrong with qualifying once and focusing the rest of your season on the Championship?

Comments appreciated


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