Nation-hopping athletes have been one of the biggest issues in international athletics for many years and Thomas Barr believes the crackdown on the trend hasn’t come a moment too soon.
Last week the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted to impose a minimum three-year waiting period for athletes looking to transfer allegiance and issued a series of stringent principles which, in short, will make it much more difficult for nations whose success hinges on imported talent.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Barr.
"It was a little bit ridiculous that it could happen overnight.”
Bahrain, Qatar, and Turkey were particularly notorious for using the previous rules to their advantage, paying athletes from a variety of nations — mostly African — a monthly salary in return for a change of allegiance, with large bonuses offered for any medals won on the international stage.
Athletes were eligible to compete for their adopted nation once they held a passport from that country, but the IAAF’s new guidelines will require athletes to have full citizenship and associated rights before a transfer is approved.
Athletes will also be able to transfer just once in their career, while athletes under the age of 20 will not be permitted to change nationalities.
“It was too easy before and it became almost a commercial thing,” said Barr of the problem.
“It was driven by money and government support, so I think it’s good that the IAAF have taken the initiative to step in and say it needs to be three years [before a transfer is approved].”
Barr finished fourth in the 400m hurdles final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, just five-hundredths of a second behind Yasmani Copello, who had transferred allegiance from Cuba to Turkey in 2014.
If the current rules were in place back then, Copello would have been ineligible to compete at the Olympics, but for Barr the key difference will be felt at the European Championships — an event that has threatened to become farcical in recent years due to the deluge of nation-hopping athletes winning medals for Turkey.
“I think it’s good that it is going to curtail that a little bit,” he said. “Some athletes were not happy that the Europeans was becoming more of a global event, especially in the middle and long distance events.”
After a disappointing 2017, in which he was unable to start the world semi-final in London after contracting gastroenteritis the night before, Barr made a promising start to 2018.
He set an Irish best of 50.50 for the indoor 400m hurdles last month, then came from behind to take 400m victory at the AIT International in 46.94.
As he continues the countdown to August’s European Championships in Berlin, he believes he’s primed for a big summer.
Barr will head to Torremolinos in Spain for a warm-weather training camp in the coming weeks, where he expects the training intensity to ramp up ahead of summer, with his motivation to make an impact stronger than ever.
“Because of London I think I came into this season with a kind of unfinished business,” he said. “I had a bit more hunger.”
Thomas Barr was speaking at the launch of the Affidea Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon, which will take place on Sunday, August 12.
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