Pro runner Nick Symmonds, America’s dominant half-miler, says there’s a good chance he won’t compete at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing later this month, despite qualifying for the event back in June.
The problem: a provision in USA Track and Field’s statement of conditions requiring runners at the championships to wear Nike-branded apparel at all USA Team events—which extend to press conferences and award ceremonies, among other functions. Symmonds believes the provision more than likely violates his sponsorship deal with Brooks.
“I believe that any athlete that’s not with Nike who signs this document would be in violation of the terms of their contract, if it’s written like my contract is,” Symmonds told Outside.
Symmonds is a national team veteran who ran for Nike before switching to Brooks last year. He has signed a version of the USATF contract at least eight times. But as a result of the sponsor change, he says he has stopped signing the statement of conditions.
This week, Symmonds has engaged in back-and-forth exchanges with a number of USATF officials, including CEO Max Siegel. “If you choose not to sign,” USATF CEO Max Siegel wrote in a letter dated August 4 and obtained by Outside, “we likewise respect that decision and will fill your spot with another athlete.”
Athletes balking at contractual requirements to don apparel from competing brands is nothing new. Paul Doyle, an agent who represents world record-holder and Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton, among other pro athletes, says that these apparel clauses that reach outside of the actual competition are federation-driven. “Athletes are forced under duress to sign this contract to be part of this team,” Doyle said. “With that contract they’re basically signing their life away.”
The next two days should bring a conclusion to Symmonds’ tiff with the USATF. In an August 5 email to Symmonds, Norman Wain, USATF’s general counsel and chief of business affairs, told the runner that if he doesn’t return the signed document by 12 p.m. EST on Sunday, August 9, he will not be on the team.