Runner Barred from U.S. Championships


Joseph Chirlee, a U.S. citizen, private in the U.S. Army, and Olympic marathon hopeful, will be barred from the national cross-country championships on Saturday because, strangely enough, he doesn't meet citizenship requirements imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations, The New York Times reports.

The IAAF rule states that competitors must have been a citizen of their home country for at least two years in order to compete; Chirlee emigrated from Kenya five years ago but has been a U.S. citizen for less than two years. The rule was imposed to discourage international competitors from jumping country to country for competitive advantage, but the rule still applies on the domestic level because USA Track and Field has adopted the IAAF rules as its own, something they've done since the mid 1980s.

The New York Times article states that USA Track and Field officials insist that the rule is not discriminatory and that it is not directed at Chirlee or several other athletes who are in his situation.

“We have an obligation to make sure competitive opportunities to represent the U.S. internationally go to individuals who are eligible to do so,” said Jill Geer, the chief public affairs officer for the organization. In other words, if Chirlee were to compete on Saturday, he would influence the outcome of the race and therefore the other competitors who are eligible to compete internationally.

“Is the rule perfect? No,” said Geer, who added that USA Track and Field officials, acting on Chirlee’s behalf, tried unsuccessfully to get the IAAF Chirlee’s eligibility.

“I accepted the two-year wait to represent the country,” Chirlee said. “But I was confused why it applied to races on home soil. I just wanted to be treated like any other U.S. citizen.”

— Michael Webster

Photo by familymwr on Flickr