Katarina Johnson-Thompson & Adam Gemili join Athletics Association board

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
Katarina Johnson-Thompson
Katarina Johnson-Thompson won gold in the heptathlon at the World Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019

British Olympians Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Adam Gemili have joined the board of a new independent body designed to fight for the rights of track and field athletes.

Launched in response to controversial changes to the Diamond League programme, the Athletics Association will "seek an athletes-first approach" to the sport.

It promised to hold governing body World Athletics to account and "to challenge them if they are not acting in the best interest of the athletes".

The body will also campaign for the right of athletes to protest at the Tokyo Olympics, including taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Last year, the 200m and triple jump were two of four events cut from the regular Diamond League programme by World Athletics because it said it wanted a "faster-paced" event.

"That was the catalyst," two-time Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, the organisation's inaugural president, told BBC Sport.

"Enough became enough. We said: 'Let's stop being on the receiving end.' As we're the main source of income for the sport, why are we not part of the discussions?"

World Athletics has an Athletes' Commission, but Taylor says more is needed.

"How far can you steer left and right because you don't want to bite the hand that feeds you?" he said.

"We're going to be unbiased and unfiltered and express exactly what the athletes feel."

Taylor says he was "inspired" by British athletes, including Gemili, who last year threatened to sue the British Olympic Association over sponsorship regulations, before reaching a deal that allowed them greater freedom to promote their own backers.

He also said he wants the non-profit athletes' union to help bring about reform of Rule 50 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter, which states political, religious or racial propaganda is not permitted on Olympic sites.

IOC guidelines issued in January said this included taking a knee.

"For the IOC to say you could be punished if you show a sign of protest on the podium has been fuel to our fire because this is a breach of our human rights," said Taylor.

"So we are challenging the IOC. It doesn't have to be that Rule 50 is abolished, but this gives us a chance to express our frustration or stance and, if done in a peaceful manner, we don't understand why this avenue would be taken away."

The pressure on the IOC to change regulations comes amid protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man who died in police custody in Minneapolis after a white officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

Last month the IOC said that athletes will decide how best to support the core Olympic values "in a dignified way".

The Athletics Association has also agreed to a strategic partnership with Global Athlete, a movement aiming to inspire greater athlete representation in organisations across the world of sport.

"Together we are stronger," said Emma Coburn, the Athletics Association's vice-president.

In a statement, World Athletics said athletes already had influence in governance.

"Under the 2019 Constitution, the chairperson and one other member of the Athletes' Commission - one male and one female - became full voting members of the World Athletics Council," it said.

"Renaud Lavillenie and Valerie Adams currently have seats at the decision-making table of World Athletics, having been democratically elected to the Athletes' Commission by almost 1,200 athletes.

"We look forward to continuing to work with all our athletes and are confident their collective voices will be heard through their elected representatives on the council."

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