by Christian Taylor

The idea first came to me in February, around the time I first heard rumours of radical changes to the Diamond League.

We needed to say something, not just stand idly by as things happened without our consent or consultation, so I began reaching out to athletes from across the athletic spectrum to see who’d stand beside me.

What makes our sport beautiful is its equality: shot putters, sprinters and distance runners are all part of the one family. But it feels more and more like that is changing, as if a hierarchy is coming threatening the livelihoods of those in events considered less popular.

We had to take a stand, to join together and have a united voice. It’s why I started The Athletics Association, a body for professional athletes that will fight for athletes’ rights and demand a say in how our sport is run.

I am fully aware that World Athletics already has an Athletes’ Commission, but I’m a big believer that we also needed something truly independent. I’m not one to complain for the sake of it, and I know there’s been major progress made already: we now have two sitting athletes on the World Athletics Council in Renaud Lavillenie and Valerie Adams, which is a great step in the right direction. After all, the overall aim is for athletes not only to have a voice, but to have influence.

But when it comes down to it, the Commission still falls somewhat under the World Athletics umbrella and that’s why I felt creating The Athletics Association is essential – a completely independent party. Whatever we voice, there is no filter. That is not to say we won’t work on solutions with the Athletes’ Commission, we’ve already sat down together last month, but we have a different strategic approach.

I want us to be heard, but also to be influential.

Christian Taylor ()

From the start, I knew it would be crucial to get high-profile athletes on board. Most of the time in our sport, it’s the people who aren’t getting lanes, who aren’t winning medals, who tend to have a lot to say. And though they make very valid points, it can almost feel like no one is listening. It’s why, strategically, I thought if we can get some champions to speak up, then those in power would be more likely to listen.

The response was astonishing, with dozens of the sport’s biggest stars keen to join the cause. We wanted to show that the entire spectrum of events was not happy about the changes, and I think that’s what we’ve done.

We had planned to launch at some point this year, but when the changes to drop four scoring disciplines – including my event, the triple jump – from the Diamond League were announced, that was the catalyst we needed, the final straw.

I was not happy about several things surrounding those changes. The criteria used to drop events didn’t sit well with me and the other members agreed. They spoke about popularity of various events based off social media clicks, but that seems such a fickle, short-term methodology to use to then mess with the livelihoods of athletes.

We’ve now got just over 500 athletes signed up, and so many others who wanted to be part of it, but we wanted to make it clear that it’s a professional athletes’ body – the ones personally affected by the decisions at the top level. That’s not to take away from the voices of fans. We need them and we’re really appreciative of them saying they stand beside us.

When the changes were announced, there was a lot of confusion and frustration. The biggest shock to athletes affected was the financial hit. But it goes deeper than that. The biggest concern athletes expressed was about their preparation. The Diamond League is the cream of the crop: the top eight or 12 people in each event getting the opportunity to compete against the best and to get a sense of who their competition will be at the championships.

As a multiple Olympian, I know what the Diamond League did for me to put me in the right place, physically and mentally, for each major champs.

I think back to 2011: I was 21 at the time, and I went to Monaco that summer and came second last, jumping 16.74m. But just after that I got the opportunity to go to London, where I won with a jump of 17.68m. That was the push I needed to go and win the World Championships later that month, and that was the snowball effect that carried me into the London Olympics the following year.

I know what these competitions mean to an up-and-coming athlete, and for them to take this opportunity and not give us something to stand on, I think it’s going to be detrimental.

There is a lot of frustration among athletes, including those in events that weren’t taken out. This is the blessing and the curse of the decision to remove the 200m as a scoring event, because now that sprinters are being hit, they’re taking a bigger interest in how their sport is run.

Some might have said, ‘oh, it’s the field events, maybe they don’t have the popularity’, or, ‘it’s the distance events, maybe they drag out the time too much,’ but after the 200 was taken out everyone suddenly felt at risk.

Will it be the 400 next? The 400 hurdles? Athletes are now wondering if they’ll be on the chopping block for 2021, if their event doesn’t get enough likes, enough clicks.

Ironically, this has actually played in our favour because now we as an association can go to the athletes and say, ‘guys, before it’s you, let’s create a united front.’

Let’s at least be in the conversation.

Christian Taylor ()

If they want to change the structure, then come to the athletes and say, ‘we’re thinking about cutting field event attempts from one minute to 30 seconds or we’re thinking of cutting from 5K to 3K.’

If that’s the case, fine, give us the reason and then let’s work together to create a better show because that’s what we’re all trying to do – we’re entertainers.

We want what we started to be a long-term thing, an association we can pass from generation to generation. Professional athletes who want to sign up can do so by emailing their name, event, discipline and country to signmeup@wearethesport.co and those who have a passion for something specific or a skill that might be useful should state that in their email. Maybe it’s graphic design, or legal support, but whatever way someone can contribute, it will be so appreciated.

It’s not that I want athletes standing behind me. I want them standing beside me.

Going into an Olympic year, it’d be a lot easier for us all not to do this. We’re aware there could be a backlash. But we love the sport and understand that all events are part of the athletic body and there should not be this hierarchy system or favoured disciplines. We all represent the athletic body and it needs to be united.

And to the athletes: you shouldn’t have to stand alone. If something happens to the steeplechase then it should affect the shot put, too, because they are part of the body. If something happens to the shot put then the 100m athletes should speak up because that, too, affects the whole athletic body.

Some people have asked me why I’m spending so much time and energy on this when I don’t ultimately need to, but I feel a duty. I can always keep jumping and leave the sport in a few years and say I had a great career. But at the end of the day, is anybody going to speak about Christian Taylor a few years from now? What will I really have brought to the sport?

For me this is an opportunity to help the next generation, and hopefully many years from now, we can look back and say we planted a seed that changed the sport for the better.