The thoughts of PROTA

2 weeks ago the Professional Triathlon Association (PROTA) sent the note below to World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) with their feedback on the proposed Prize Money & Qualification Standards.

TO: World Triathlon Corporation July 9, 2010

FROM: Hillary Biscay & Matt Lieto, athlete spokespersons on behalf of the Professional Triathlon Association (PROTA)

The Professional Triathlon Association (PROTA) conducted a survey of over 500 professional athletes for their feedback on the WTC’s proposed Prize Money & Qualification Standards. The survey was made up of any – and all – suggestions, many of which were expressed by multiple athletes, and gave an opportunity to let true democracy give a voice to not only the prevailing opinion on various suggestions, but also on how important each suggested change was to the athletes. Of the 500 athletes, surveyed, many – but not all – were WTC Pro Ironman members. But the vast majority of respondents are the very athletes that have been fixtures at WTC races for many years. Included in the respondents were five WTC Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Champions: Chrissie Wellington, Tim Deboom, Andy Potts, Joanna Zeiger, and Julie Dibens. The number of Ironman and Ironman 70.3 winners was even more extensive, with 29 of the 136 respondents having won at least one – and in several cases numerous – Ironman and Ironman 70.3 titles. Add in podium finishers, and the list grows even further. The feedback presented here is from the athletes who have built their careers on their success in WTC races and who care a great deal about the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races.

Ultimately, we desire not work against WTC on any of these issues, but to work with you to improve the quality and competitiveness of all WTC races, something which we feel will benefit not only us as athletes, but also WTC as the premier brand within our sport.

In an effort to foster a closer and more cooperative relationship between the athletes and WTC, two athletes – one male and one female – were nominated and elected to speak on our behalf and to function as liaisons between WTC and their professional members (and potential future professional members). We the undersigned athletes – Hillary Biscay and Matt Lieto - are those elected athletes and it is in that role that we are presenting the feedback collected in the PROTA survey. What we are presenting to you here is not the complete results of that feedback, as there was the opportunity to add comments to any answer as well as a free-form field for open commentary at the end. But there were some consensus ideas that came up over and over; it was those topics that we wished to share with you.

Before we delve into the topic of what the athletes felt could and should be changed in the PROFESSIONAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFYING, PRIZE MONEY & POLICIES document submitted to all WTC pro members, we wanted to cover the topic of things that we felt we could do to enhance our role at WTC races. We did not take a formal vote on these things – as WTC did not request feedback along these lines – but we would be happy to conduct a similar open forum discussion and survey if that would be something that would be valuable to WTC. Many pros expressed a willingness to commit to making themselves more available to WTC at races for multiple events throughout the year that would provide added value to the age-group athletes’ ironman experience. Having greater participation from the pros at events such as pre-race dinners, press conferences, pro panels, “an hour with the pros,” finish-line parties, awards lunches, etc. is a way that we can give back to the races that have really helped so many of us build our careers in this sport. We are open to suggestions from the WTC further to these ideas on how we can work together in this realm.

It is our understanding that several of the items that a majority of athletes felt were important and which ought to be changed are issues that came up in much of the early feedback that WTC received and which are already in the process of being revised. We applaud such actions and hope that our inclusions of topics which may have already been changed is simply viewed as further support for any decision to change those items.

Among the feedback that we received, the single idea which received the most overwhelming support and also was expressed as being either very important or critically important by 99% of all respondents was the idea of a permanent liaison between WTC and the athletes who could communicate on topics such as these directly with the athletes and field comments, concerns and questions from both sides of the table. Given the overwhelming importance that our fellow athletes place on this role, we take our positions very seriously.

The second topic that a majority expressed concern with was the points system as it was originally presented. Over 50% of respondents labeled this as a critical issue (one of only four topics where a majority expressed this sentiment). The overwhelming sentiment was that Ironman races – as compared with Ironman 70.3 races – deserved a greater value with regards to points. Many athletes also expressed great concern about the ranking system only being decided as of Sept. 1. 72 percent of all respondents felt that having a minimum points threshold – which would be impossible to determine without seeing the final points tally, but which seemed to be “about 1500” points based on the initial draft – was a very necessary change. That would allow many athletes for whom an early season Ironman – such as New Zealand – is their focus outside of Kona to continue to support many of the WTC races that they have for many years without fear of being left out at the last minute.

The third most important issue to many athletes was that the Ironman Pro Membership license – currently $750 – include entry into all races, including Kona and Clearwater. This idea received over 90% support and 85% of athletes considered it to be very important or critical.

The fourth topic that was considered most important was that the KPR be used to dictate – to a certain extent - the WTC’s recently-implemented drug testing program. 90% of athletes felt that the top-10 ranked KPR (Kona Points Ranking) athletes should be subjected to a published minimum number of both blood and urine tests during the year. The points system is extremely valuable in terms of determining who the top-performing athletes are, and as a result would make a very good guide for a concrete plan for testing and ensuring fairness at the highest level.

There were a few other topics that received overwhelming support, though were not considered as critically important as the previous four. The first such issue was that the top-10 athletes – both male and female – be paid at all races. A majority – 61% of athletes – also supported the idea of paying the men (or women) deeper – even if an unequal total prize purse resulted – if the depth of field was disparate. Many female athletes supported this idea as well. 72% of athletes felt that regional championships – such as the European Championships – ought to rotate venues and should not always be held on the same course.

A majority of athletes also desired that Kona should fulfill an athlete’s obligation to do an Ironman-distance race within the qualifying period, with 25% agreeing that they would support it even if WTC required an additional WTC Ironman distance race throughout the year; without such a modification, an athlete racing Kona would be forced to potentially race three Ironmans (including Kona the next year) as opposed to only two for a non-Kona finisher. A majority of athletes also supported a multi-year ranking system to help “smooth over” periods where an athlete might not be able to race. Golf, for example, uses a five-year ranking system. Sailing uses a two-year system, and it was a two-year system that received the most support, though many athletes said they just desired a multi-year system and did not care how many years it was as long as it was more than one.

More athletes than not - though not a majority (49%) - supported the idea of a minimum prize purse for WTC pro races. 65% of athletes were in favor of a standardized system of travel stipends and appearance fees based on the KPR as well; even though they recognized that this might preclude their own arrangement of such a deal with the race organizer, they valued the idea of a published and standardized system in this regard. 63% of athletes also desired to have start lists published for all races two weeks in advance. A majority of athletes – 54% - also indicated that they did not like the idea of “wildcard” slots for entry into Kona. And most pros – though not a majority (39%) – indicated that they felt Kona winners should receive guaranteed entry to the race as a pro for life.

We hope that this feedback is useful to you and shows our commitment and willingness to work in a cooperative manner amongst ourselves to improve the sport we all care about so passionately.


Matt Lieto & Hillary Biscay for PROTA athletes around the globe