World Athletics has given its seal of approval for the high-tech Nike Vaporfly shoes that have revolutionised athletics – but has set limits on future technology.
In a statement the sport’s governing governing admitted for the first time that “there is sufficient evidence to raise concerns that the integrity of the sport might be threatened by the recent developments in shoe technology”.
But, as first reported in the Guardian on Tuesday, World Athletics has declared all shoes currently on the market are legal, including the ones worn by Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei to shatter the men’s and women’s marathon records.
In the meantime a World Athletics panels of experts has recommended that further research be undertaken to establish “the true impact of this technology” and to assess any new shoes that enter the market. While that happens, there will be an “indefinite moratorium” on any new hi-tech shoe that has a sole thicker than 40mm and has more than one rigid embedded plate or blade.
That means that the AlphaFly shoe worn by Kipchoge when he ran 26.2 miles in under two hours in Vienna, which is said to contain three carbon plates, will not be allowed in competition until more research is conducted.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe insisted that the decision was a proportionate one – but the rules could be toughened up in the future.
“It is not our job to regulate the entire sports shoe market but it is our duty to preserve the integrity of elite competition by ensuring that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage,” he added. “As we enter the Olympic year, we don’t believe we can rule out shoes that have been generally available for a considerable period of time, but we can draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market while we investigate further.
“I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology. If further evidence becomes available that indicates we need to tighten up these rules, we reserve the right to do that to protect our sport.”
However, World Athletics’ decision will not placate all its critics, who believe the shoes are tantamount to ‘technological’ doping – which have led to records being shattered and given Nike-sponsored athletes a massive and unfair advantage.
Matt Yates, a former Olympian and now a top coach, told the Guardian that the new regulations were a case of too little, too late. “Athletes have lost out medals, funding and financial support because Nike have been allowed to break the rules while World Athletics slept and done nothing,” he said. “It’s the same as doping, it’s simply cheating.”