Shame on USATF For Not Sending a Team to the 2024 World U20 Athletics Championships

USA Track & Field forfeits World U20 competition for no good reason

On Monday, USATF announced it will not be sending a team to this year’s World U20 Athletics Championships in Lima, Peru, even though the United States is hosting the very same meet in Eugene in 2026.

If we were in charge of World Athletics, we’d respond very quickly by removing the US as host of the 2026 meet, but we’ve reached out to WA and they aren’t considering anything of the sort. But the US’s behavior is quite crass –  it’s the equivalent of throwing a big party and expecting all of your friends to show up while not returning the favor when your friend throws a party of their own. The US is the #1 track & field power in the world and the 2024 event won’t be nearly as good without American athletes there.

This marks the second time in the last three editions that USATF has opted out of the World U20 Championships. USATF did not send a team to the 2021 meet in Nairobi, Kenya, either. In 2021, USATF offered little explanation other than a two-sentence tweet explaining the absence was due to “a number of factors including timing, logistics, and most importantly the health and well-being of our athletes and team staffs.”

USATF offered a longer explanation this time, writing in a press release that it decided not to send a team “after careful consideration concerning both the domestic & international athletics calendar, consultation amongst the internal team, advice of security consultants and relevant government authorities.”

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USATF’s decision to skip the meet had been rumored for months, but that does not make it any less disappointing. The excuses offered by USATF are incongruent and have led some to suspect it is a money-saving measure. USATF’s main revenue source – its 23-year deal with Nike – is not growing with inflation, which is up 22.7% in the last five years. USATF also lost $6.7 million in 2022 as a result of hosting the World Athletics Championships.

(Related: USATF CEO Max Siegel is GROSSLY overpaid)

World Athletics and the local organizing committee will cover travel and lodging costs for 500 of the roughly 1,400 athletes expected to compete in Lima. Each federation receives a quota among those 500 based on historic performance at the meet, so USATF could expect to have expenses covered for a good chunk of its athletes. But if USATF were to send a full team, it would likely have to cover some athlete expenses itself, in addition to travel/lodging costs for USATF coaches and staff.

Let’s examine USATF’s rationale for skipping the meet, point by point.

1) Safety

The USATF press release emphasized safety first and foremost.

We understand that this decision may be disappointing for those who were looking forward to participating, but we have the responsibility to prioritize the safety and security of all involved.

This decision was made after deliberation over the course of several months considering the following factors:

  • Safety: Travel advisories issued by the US State Department because of the ongoing civil unrest in the area, and for US citizens generally. The safety and well-being of our athletes, coaches, managers, and staff are of paramount importance to us.

The fact that USATF started with safety isn’t surprising. What parent is going to push back against possible safety concerns regarding their teenagers? But USATF’s argument does not pass muster.

While no travel is 100% safe, the reality is Peru is not a particularly dangerous country, particularly the capital of Lima, where the meet will be held. The State Department has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for Peru. Some other Level 2s include: the UK (where the US just sent a full team to World Indoors), Denmark, France (host of this summer’s Olympics), Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Italy. Peru’s murder rate has dropped dramatically in recent years and was 3.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2023 – which is 58.2% of the US rate of 5.5 per 100,000.

The last World U20 Championships in 2022 were held in Cali, Colombia. During the meet, the US State Department had a Level 3 advisory for Colombia (“reconsider travel”), yet that did not stop USATF from sending a team.

The State Department does warn not to travel to certain areas of Peru such as the Loreto Region and the VRAEM area, but American athletes would not be going anywhere near those regions. reached out to USATF for an explanation for the specific security concerns about Peru in 2024 that made it unsafe for travel but did not receive a response.

2) Event date

The second reason USATF cited for withdrawing was the date of the event.

Event Date: The August 26-31 date of the event is at the end of the summer period and will be problematic for many high school and college athletes as many will have already returned to school/campuses for the 2024-2025 academic year. In addition, schools & colleges distance/cross-country athletes will be early in their cross-country season.

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The timing of the meet is not ideal, particularly for those athletes who are going into their freshman year of college and might miss the start of the term or orientation (the majority of athletes will be entering their freshman or sophomore year of college, along with a select few high schoolers). But it’s not as if USATF is forcing every U20 athlete to run this meet. If an athlete does not want to run World U20s because it interferes with the start of college, they can give up their spot. For many athletes, World U20s is their first – and perhaps only – opportunity to represent the US, and they are grateful to have it. 

Missing class is unfortunate, but it comes with the territory of being a Division I athlete. Most big collegiate cross country races are held on Fridays. And the possibility of missing class did not stop USATF from sending full U20 teams to World XC in February 2023 or March 2024.

As for the meet falling during cross country season, some college coaches might not like that but others might be glad to have an athlete competing on the global stage. It’s not uncommon for international athletes to run NCAA cross country after a long summer track season.

3) Competitive readiness

Competitive Readiness: Despite the competitive opportunities offered by USATF to high school aged athletes through its Association, then Regional, then National Junior Olympic program, many high school and college athletes who might have qualified for Team USA would lack adequate competitive opportunities during the period between the end of the USATF U20 Championships in mid- June until the late August start of the event in Peru – a period of nearly 11 weeks.

This is another strawman argument. Yes, in an ideal world, the meet would be held a few weeks after the US U20 champs (June 12-13) at some time in July, which is when 8 of the last 11 World U20 champs have been held. Alternatively, USATF could stage its U20 champs later in the summer. But recently USATF has (not unreasonably) combined its U20 champs with another meet in order to save on logistical costs. The last two years, USATF combined the U20 champs with its senior champs. This year, the U20 meet will be combined with Nike Outdoor Nationals in Eugene, which run June 12-15.

But the US is hardly the only country with “competitive readiness” concerns. Some countries, like the US, will have athletes returning to school in late August. And southern hemisphere countries like South Africa and Australia will be in the middle of winter, well outside of the traditional domestic track season.

The reality is, the US should still be competitive no matter the dates – most US athletes who commit to the championships are going to want to perform well. The last time the US sent a team to the World U20s with a similar date was 2006 in Beijing (August 15-20), where the US finished third in the medal table behind Kenya and host China. Before that, the last World U20 meet in late August was in 1996 in Sydney (August 20-25). In that meet, the US topped the gold medal table (with six) and overall medal table (with 12). At the time, six was actually the most gold medals the US had ever won at World U20s (it was just the sixth edition of the World U20s).

But that stat is beside the point. With other senior events, USATF does not refuse to send teams simply because the date of the competition wasn’t ideal. Last year’s Pan American Games in Chile were held from October 30 – November 4, yet USATF still sent a full squad.


USATF Needs to Do Its Job and Think of the Athletes

It’s a bad look for the world’s #1 track & field nation to skip two of the last three World U20 Championships. But the people hurt most by this decision are the athletes. For some, the World U20 champs will be their only opportunity to represent their country on the world stage. With Monday’s decision, USATF has now removed that opportunity.

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For others, World U20s is an athlete’s first chance to experience world-class competition, which will help prepare them for a professional career down the line. Some of America’s biggest stars like Noah Lyles (Bydgoszcz 2016), Michael Norman (Bydgoszcz 2016), Yared Nuguse (Tampere 2018), and Grant Fisher (Eugene 2014) competed at World U20s as teens. 

And in case anyone forgot, the point of the World U20 Championships is to develop stars for future Olympics and the United States is hosting the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. The US is not going to stop producing track stars, but skipping World U20s does not help the development of American athletes.

The bottom line here is that while USATF has many functions, one of its biggest is to select teams for international championships. And while there are occasional hiccups regarding how those teams are selected, one thing that typically is not an issue is the US’s commitment to sending full teams to the biggest events. USATF sends as many athletes as possible to the Olympics, World Indoors, World Cross Country, and the World Road Running Championships and deserves credit for doing so. The World U20 champs is a major championship – one of the biggest track meets in the world featuring the future stars of the sport. By failing to send a team, USATF is failing to execute one of its primary functions and shirking its responsibility as the leader in the track & field world.

Talk about this on our messageboard: MB: USATF not sending team to 2024 World U20 champs in Peru – Should WA remove Eugene as host of 2026?

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