World Athletics takes aim at the sole of the shoe technology issue

World Athletics has approved new regulations governing athletic shoes that will come into effect following the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics. The changes come after shoe technology was held under increasing scrutiny by athletes and fans for artificially improving athletic performances.

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 100m - Final - OLS - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 1, 2021. Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy in action REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 100m - Final - OLS - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 1, 2021. Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy in action REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The World Athletics Council has approved new regulations in regards to athletic shoes. The issue of athletic shoe technology has dominated conversations in athletics circles over the last few years, leading to calls for greater regulation in the sport.

The new regulations will replace transitional rules guiding athletic shoes that were established in 2020 and 2021, and set to expire on December 31, 2021. The new regulations will come into effect on January 1, 2022.

One of the key regulations provided for in the amended technical rules is the new limitations placed on shoe sole thickness. Under the current transitional rules, sole thickness was limited to a stack height of 20 to 25 millimeters for track events, while a sole thickness of up to 40 millimeters was allowed for road events.

Under the amended regulations, the maximum sole thickness will be limited to a stack height of 20 millimeters for all track and field events. Crucially, these particular regulation won’t replace the current transitional one at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, but on November 1, 2024.

Some of the other regulation changes made in regards to athletics shoes include further clarification on how shoes will be checked for compliance, and how World Athletics will police infringements to the amended rules.

World Athletics also provided clarification on permissible customizations, allowing “adaptations for individual athletes on medical and safety grounds.” A decision was also taken to ban “sensing or intelligent” technology in the present and future. World Athletics did clarify that this ban does not apply to the use of heart rate monitors, speed distance monitors, and similar technology.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 1500m - Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 7, 2021. General view of Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway in action ahead of other athletes REUTERS/Andrew Boyers
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 1500m - Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 7, 2021. General view of Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway in action ahead of other athletes REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

Commenting on the new regulations, Chief Executive of World Athletics, Jon Ridgeon, stated, “there has been an enormous amount of background work and meetings held both internally and externally on our shoe rules since the inception of the Working Group on Athletic Shoes in June 2020, following on from the work in 2019 of its predecessor, the Assistance Review Group.”

“There is still more to do but I would like to thank the Working Group, the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) and the shoe companies for their openness and collaboration in finding solutions that help support innovation on the one hand while ensuring innovation in shoe technology does not create unfairness or a paradigm shift in athletic performances on the other.”

World Athletics stated that the purpose of its Working Group on Athletic Shoes had been to find long-term sustainable and implementable solutions for athletic shoes that also balanced innovation and fairness.

The issue of shoe technology came further under the microscope after comments made by Karsten Warholm, Olympic Champion and world record holder in the 400m hurdles, following his victory at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Warholm warned that advancements in shoe technology could harm the credibility of sport. He stated, “When somebody does a great performance now, everybody will question if it’s the shoe, and that is the credibility problem.”

“Hopefully somebody is doing the research and hopefully World Athletics are there to protect both athletes but also the audience.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 400m Hurdles - Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 3, 2021. Karsten Warholm of Norway poses next to his new world record as he celebrates after winning gold. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Athletics - Men's 400m Hurdles - Final - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 3, 2021. Karsten Warholm of Norway poses next to his new world record as he celebrates after winning gold. REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

He added, “People sitting at home. I don’t want them to feel like they’ve been fooled or tricked. I want there to be credibility. And that’s what I feel the sport of track and field is all about. You can compare things.”

Warholm also maintained that he’s not against technological advancements in sports, commenting, “I’m all for technology pushing it a little bit forward, in all sports.”

It would seem that World Athletics largely shares Warholm’s sentiments, approving tighter regulations on shoe technology, while vowing to continue “dialogue with the shoe manufacturing industry on a regular basis in 2022 and beyond.”

The issue of shoe technology likely won’t disappear for the next few seasons either, with the postponed 2022 World Athletics Championships slated to be held in Eugene, Oregon; a city closely associated with athletic shoe giant Nike.

Whether or not further amendments will be made to World Athletics’ regulations regarding shoe technology remains to be seen. Regardless of future decisions, it is clear that athletes will have to do a lot less sole searching in the future.