By Al James, Jim Jimison, Brad Leonard and Verne Scott
Members, USAT History Project
Sanctioning sporting events has been a long time process of National Governing Bodies in the US. Qualifying criteria for obtaining a sanction normally requires some type of insurance as well as complying with specifications for safety measures to cover participants.
In 1980 Paul Porter, an insurance agent who was involved in organizing the Muncie (IN) Endurance Triathlon and who became the first race director in 1980, was able to obtain insurance coverage for that event. In doing so, he and the organizing group established guidelines to ensure the safety of the participants and organizers.
Early in 1982 two independent groups organized for the purpose of creating a governing body.
They were the United States Triathlon Association (USTA) and the American Triathlon Association (ATA). Both explored sanctioning and providing insurance. They merged in April 1982 under the title of United States Triathlon Association. In August 1982 guidelines for sanctioning were developed. The first sanctions were approved for the Horny Toad Triathlon in San Diego and the Hawaiian Ironman.
The USTA guidelines for sanctioning, which included insurance, were similar to those being used by Porter. Neither was aware of the others efforts.
In early 1983 an insurance coverage agreement between Insurance and Risk Management Inc. and USTA was signed through the efforts of Paul Porter. Then USTA turned much of its attention to sanctioning events. Details on the evolution of insurance coverage can be found in the USAT History Project Essay "Insurance for Triathlons, 1980-1989".
In August 1983 the name of USTA was officially changed to Triathlon Federation/USA (Tri-Fed).
Safety standards were given high priority and formed the basis for a sanctioning system. Emphasis was placed on promoting the health, welfare and safety of participants, support staff and spectators. This process became the backbone in establishing Tri-Fed as the legitimate National Governing body for the sport. Once sanctioned races became known for their high quality and attention to detail, insurance for both triathletes and race management was offered. The original guidelines and safety requirements were compiled by Al James and published by Tri-Fed in 1985.
The Tri-Fed Board of Directors selected National Championship races exclusively from sanctioned races.
Summary of Race Sanctioning Guidelines and Safety Requirements
Policies and fundamental purposes were expressed in the following items:
Race Sanctioning: Insurance and sanctioning were corner stones in the success of the Federation in obtaining National Governing Body recognition by the US Olympic Committee. They also contributed to improvements in the application of safety and rules which were significant benefits for the event managers and participants.
The Federation's insurance plan had explicit requirements which had to be met in order to be eligible for benefits.
The sanctioning process was not easy or smooth. For example, Tri-Fed's purpose was to offer membership benefits with the expectation that participants would receive a fair and safe race. Some race directors only wanted insurance. Some resented Tri-Fed's effort to service the membership guarantees. Tri-Fed essentially forced race directors to accept referees who had the power to pull the sanctioning and insurance on site. This lead to competing programs which offered race-day insurance with no demands for course compliance. It was the member's demands for better race control that gave Tri-Fed the edge and eventually the control over sanctioning. Race insurance made it possible for sanctioning to succeed, and for Tri-Fed to survive. This contest with rival organizations continued until the USOC recognized Tri-Fed as the NGB for triathlon. This success was due to the quality of the sanctioning, and the insurance plan with it's demand for compliance.
Another variable in the period of 1982 to 1989 and beyond was the attitude of Tri-Fed Executive Director, and emphasis he placed on the sanctioning process and insurance plan. Verne Scott, 1984-87, was influential in moving the initial policies forward. Jim Friem, 1988-89, emphasized age groupers and a tough stand on sanctioning. Mark Sisson, 1990-92, a pro-athlete, did not favor sanctioning or strong enforcement of rules by officials. Steve Locke, 1993, was inclined to favor race directors when an issue of sanctioning and/or rules was involved.
Race Administration: Tri-Fed established the policy that "Persons and organizations who plan and conduct a triathlon are responsible for insuring that every reasonable effort has been made to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of all participants, spectators, and workers".
Race Management: The race directorʼs responsibilities included: designing and conducting a safe event, obtaining a sanction and insurance, securing permits, arranging for support staff personnel, equipment, and supplies, and training personnel, insuring complete medical preparation and execution.
For example "The race course had to be designed so as to be point to point, around a circuit or out and back, and should not cross itself. The course, transition area, and start and finish was to be situated so as to accommodate spectators. Aid stations, police, and monitors were to be located at key points during the race".
The responsibilities were difficult to achieve in the early days as public waterways and streets were used in most triathlon venues, and these were not closed to public use during a triathlon.
Race Announcements/Instructions: These had to include all pertinent race information, plus a place for triathletes to verify their physical condition by signing a liability waiver release and indemnification form.
Race Directors: They had to be prepared for pre-race contingencies which might result in a postponement due to weather or short term delays or canceling due to extremely adverse conditions which would jeopardize the health, safety, and welfare of the triathletes.
Race Structure: Race organizers had to receive permission from all race related public entities to conduct a triathlon. Permits had to be secured from City, County, State and/or Federal authorities as appropriate. Use of swim rescue, police, and medical personnel had to be secured from government officials. Race organizations had to obtain insurance covering itself, and it's associates, participants, and all public entities. Races established the requirement for Open Division and Age Group Divisions. The Open Division to consist of professionals with a separate start.
Medical Preparations: Requirements for a medical treatment and medical evacuation plan were established. Medical evacuation boats were required for the swim leg so as to insure evacuation to shore in less than five minutes, plus safety monitor stations in the water, such as
row boats, canoes, and rescue boards. Ambulances with paramedics had to be available on the bike and run courses.
Race Information: Thirty days prior to race day, race organizers were required to provide entrants with: pertinent race details, such as: course length, location of pre race mandatory meeting and check in, and a schedule of related triathlon activities. At the mandatory race meeting the race director had to provide a physical layout of the course, including any any course changes, local "ground rules" i.e. areas exempt for drafting such as water stops, medical facilities, and construction, and water temperature.
Course Requirements: The course was to be designed to maximize safe and easy movement, and minimize unsafe or unclear areas. The race swim start line had to be wide and/ or deep, the first buoy at least 200 yards. from the start, and the buoys had to be brightly colored and placed no further than 250 yards apart. On the bike leg, intersections were to be fully monitored for traffic control, turns were to be marked with chalk and signs, sand and gravel removed, and "race in progress" signs placed at key locations. On the run leg, runners were to run against traffic, monitors placed at intersections and mileage markers provided. In the transition area egress and ingress routes had to be monitored, and the area cleaned of debris. Water was to be provided at every reasonable location.
General Provisions: These included sanitary facilities, change areas, a registrar (one who accounts for all competitors i.e. dropouts and DNF) and provisions for handling protests.
Radio Communications: The race director had to provide a communications system to include radios on the swim, bike and run course, and the transition area to allow free interchange on an emergency, race problems, and racer progress.
Timeline of Race Sanctioning:
1986: Details of the Safety Standards were expanded extensively by the Executive Director and Board of Director of Tri-Fed as experience was gained by race directors, triathletes, public officials, medical personnel, water safety experts, and others concerned with the health and safety of all involved in a triathlon.
An entirely new section called "The Sanctioning Process" which defined the authority of Tri-Fed, gained by National Governing Body recognition, was integrated into the Tri-Fed Safety Standards. Included was the exclusive authority to sanction a triathlon in the United States. It outlined instances when Tri-Fed could disapprove a sanction based upon: poor past performance, lack of community support, insufficient preparation time, discrepancies in race planning, etc. A section was included on how to file a sanctioning request, how a request was
processed and approved, that race organizers were compelled to comply with the precepts of the safety standards, and that a sanction could be withdrawn.
There was at least one instances of sanctioning justice. An application for a Tri-Fed National Sprint Championship was filed, but after the event, the application was determined to have false information. An application was filed by the same race directors the next year, but it was denied. This was a problem with sanctioning. Any corrective actions were almost always after the event was over. So, justice was a year behind.
The handling of all sanctioning requests and the approval procedures were outlined including the fact that Tri-Fed Competitive Rules were to be enforced in all sanctioned races. Detailed Sanction Applications and Agreement forms, Sanctioning data forms, and Insurance Fact Sheets were published by Tri-Fed in the Triathlon Guidebook. Completion of these forms allowed the Federation to better assess the race directorʼs plans for and preparation of their races.
The Race Structure section of the Safety Standards was greatly expanded. The race director had to develop a race plan which outlined the general characteristics of the course, configuration of the transition area, the swim start, and run finish, etc. The race director was also required to obtain insurance to cover participants, support staff, and spectators. Comprehensive General Liability, Participant Medical and Accidental Death, and other coverages were outlined.
A new section on Race Operations was developed. Specific instructions for handling race contingencies were established including parameters for postponing an event, changing the course, shortening the course, and canceling an event. On the swim leg instructions were provided on wave starts, swimmer accountability, controlling non-event boats, wearing and marking swim caps, and reporting all assists and rescues to race management. On the bicycle and run legs all turns, traffic hazards, and high risk intersections had to be monitored. In the transition areas ingress/egress points and the bike corral had to be monitored, and vehicles kept clear of the area.The requirement for a medical treatment and evacuation plan was established. Medical reports were required on all participants who used the medical facilities. Provisions were also made for traffic, spectator, media, and crowd control.
A new Appendix was written on "Summary Description of Insurance Coverage" which included comprehensive general liability, participant medical and accidental death, and optional coverage. Premiums and other charges were established.
Another new appendix was included on "Policies and Procedures for Triathlon Federation/USA National Championships". This section established a Championship Selection Committee which awarded Championship races subject to the approval of the Executive Committee. It also outlined the Classes and Types of Championships, the Process for Granting a Championship, the Criteria for Selecting a Championship Triathlon, and services to be rendered by Tri-Fed in designating a Championship.
The new Appendix on sanctioning Youth Triathlons included a general statement on the motivation for sanctioning youth triathlons, the concept for managing an event and the requirements for developing a race plan, the race entry form, race structure, race operations, and the categories of youth triathlons which established the age groups and distances for each category.
The Appendix for Canoeing Guidelines established the precedent for allowing other sports in addition to swim, bike, and run to become a part of the triathlon sanctioning process.
1987: Tri-Fed initiated a new membership licensing program for all triathletes who wished to participate in Tri-Fed sanctioned races. Annual membership covered annual required insurance license/membership for the entire season. One day/event insurance was offered for race day only. Triathletes were classified as follows:
Category A: Open [highly competitive triathletes]; Category B: Elite [highly skilled triathletes]; Category C: Age Group - C-1 Experienced [a trained and experienced triathlete]; C-2 Novice [a recreational triathlete]; and C-3 Minor [triathletes 14-17 years of age].
A special section was established to outline specific conditions for races offering prize money. Events with prize money had to have provisions for the amount and equitable distribution of prize money between men and women, a dedicated wave start, have additional draft marshals, etc. Another special section was inserted, extracted from The Triathlon Officials Manual, which detailed how race directors were to handle the drafting problem to include establishing a draft control team, outlining bike leg coverage procedures, and handling and reporting all drafting violations.
1988-1989: The Race Sanctioning process remained pretty much intact during this period. Race sanctioning drew race directors to Tri-Fed, as races were founded across the Country. The United States Triathlon Series, (USTS), expanded eastward in 1983, and provided triathletes with high quality Tri-Fed sanctioned races. The Federation gained stature as as the focal point of knowledge on triathlons. Fees from the sanctioning races, plus volunteer membership dues, and some early corporate sponsor donations allowed Tri-Fed to gradually gain a foothold, and establish itself as the true National Governing Body for Triathlon.
Sanctioned races increased from 100 in 1984 to 230 in 1985 and to 350 in 1986.
In 2010 the number of sanctioned events was 3,486. This total includes camps and clinics which contributed a relatively small number to the total. It does reflect the tremendous growth in sanctions that took place in recent years.
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