Sebastian Coe proposes cross-country for 2024 Paris Olympic Games, path of least resistance?

“My love for athletics began with cross-country. It would be hugely symbolic for this wonderful athletic discipline to return to the fold after a century, and for a new generation of runners to fall in love with the glorious challenge of running off-piste,” said Coe at a news conference on Thursday.

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Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, wants cross-country back in the Olympics. He once talked about how it should be in the Winter Games, but nothing ever happened. He is now proposing that it is added to the Summer Games as it was from 1912 to 1924.

2014 Canadian Cross Country Championships in snowy conditions, Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC

Paris hosted the Games in 1924 and they are hosting them again in 2024, 100 years hence. So, World Athletics put forth the proposal to have cross-country re-enter the Olympics in the 2024 Paris Games.

“My love for athletics began with cross-country. It would be hugely symbolic for this wonderful athletic discipline to return to the fold after a century, and for a new generation of runners to fall in love with the glorious challenge of running off-piste,” said Coe at a news conference on Thursday.

World Athletics proposed making the event a mixed-gender cross-country relay.

The event would include two men and two women per nation running 2.5 kilometres twice.  This would be a departure from the 2K loops (approximately) that international cross-country courses must offer. The mixed-gender race is an idea taken from the mixed-gender event at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships that debuted during the 2019 Aarhus world championships.

Prior to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee had suggested that the 10,000-metre distance event be removed from the Games. Perhaps the cross-event in exchange for the 10,000m race would be a trade-off, I wonder if that will come up in the negotiations when Coe meets with the IOC? Although running purists would probably prefer to keep the 10,000m event and continue to lobby to get cross-country into the Winter Games.

How can that happen?

The Olympic Charter would have to be rewritten to allow for non-snow and ice events to take place during the Winter Games. Cross-country running can be run in adverse weather conditions and many meets have had snow on the ground, but the event does not require snow or ice like skiing, boarding or skating does to happen. Cross-country, not ideally though, can and sometimes is run in hot weather.

The charter would then have to be re-written or state an exception where “winter-oriented” sports can be included, or something to that effect. World cross-country meets typically take place in late winter, while national and regional championships — to qualify for Worlds, for example, take place in late fall — often in winter-like conditions.

The path of least resistance

The lobbying to change the charter would likely be a challenge, much greater than simply proposing to include it in the Summer Games — the path of least resistance. The trade-off is that the Winter Olympic Games would benefit by having access to a global audience located in the warm climates, who would not otherwise watch the Winter Olympic Games because they cannot relate to the events. The television revenue would grow; this is low-hanging fruit.

2020 Pan Am Cross Country Cup in Victoria, BC. Photo credit: Christopher Kelsall. American-Kenyan Anthony Rotich and Johnatas De Oliveira Cruz from Brazil challenge the infamous hill Feb. 29, 2020.

Ethiopian distance running legends Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie as well as Kenyan Paul Tergat, all world record holders at some time during their career, had proposed that the IOC add cross-country to the Winter Games back in 2008. Who knows where that went. It likely fell on deaf ears. At the time Lamine Diack was the IAAF (World Athletics) president. He has faced multiple charges related to corruption and is in Paris after being extradited from Senegal. It is not a stretch to suggest that the elite athletes probably didn’t have enough bribe money to sway his opinion.

Coe is now a voting member of the International Olympic Committee and being the president of World Athletics and a former politician, his opinion likely carries weight. The question on some people’s minds is, would it be better to work to challenge the charter and propose cross-country to happen during the Winter Games or take what you can get — the summer event and the path of least resistance?