IAAF proposals to lower the distances for race walking from 50 and 20km to 30 and 10km have met with resistance from numerous athletes ©savetheraewalking.org

Proposals by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Race Walking Committee to reduce distances from 20 and 50 kilometres, criticised by several top athletes, will be under consideration at the two-day IAAF Council meeting due to start in Doha tomorrow.

The agenda also includes an updated judgement call from the Task Force that was set-up in 2015 to verify the reforms required of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency in order for Russian athletes to be re-admitted to international competition in the wake of the doping scandal in their country.

Updates on what the new-look IAAF Diamond League might look like in 2020 once the current contract runs out this year is another matter to be discussed.

There will also be debate on if the world rankings - introduced on a trial basis this year - will be used next season to determine qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

But seismic utterances are not expected on these topics.

What is generating the most heat right now is the question of whether to scale down the current distances employed in race walking.

There is pressure on the IAAF to do so but, largely through a new group created by a former Italian race walker, Stefano La Sorda, a longtime member of the Organising Committee of the annual Lugano Trophy race walking event, opposition is rising.

His recently created website, www.savetheracewalking.org, contains numerous images and contributions from international athletes opposing the proposed changes.

Coincidentlally, China's Liu Hong set a world record in the 50km race walk today, becoming the first woman to break the four-hour barrier with a time of 3 hours 59min 15 seconds at the Chinese Race Walk Grand Prix in Huangshan.

 The 31-year-old beat the record of 4:04.36 set last year by fellow countrywoman Liang Rui in Taicang.

Among those against the new plans are Britain's Commonwealth Games silver medallist Tom Bosworth and Canada's Evan Dunfee, fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race walk.

Others to have put their protest on record include Australia's London 2012 50km champion Jared Tallent, Rio 2016 50km champion Matej Toth of Slovakia, France's world 50km record holder and champion Yohann Diniz and inaugural women's world 50km champion Ines Henriquez.

"Athletes often struggle to know when the right time to retire is," Dunfee tweeted. 

"So thank you @iaaforg for giving me a clear timeline to know exactly when to evacuate this sinking ship."

Should they be approved, the changes will be effective from January 1 in 2021.

Maurizio Damilano, the 1980 Olympic gold medallist for Italy, is chair of the IAAF Race Walking Committee that is recommending that race walk distances be reduced ©Getty Images
Maurizio Damilano, the 1980 Olympic gold medallist for Italy, is chair of the IAAF Race Walking Committee that is recommending that race walk distances be reduced ©Getty Images

The IAAF Race Walking Committee is chaired by Maurizio Damilano, the 1980 Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion over 20km.

The Italian has claimed the changes are crucial for the future of the sport.

"The Committee is very proud of the history and the tradition of our events, but our main goal right now is to secure the future of race walking beyond Tokyo 2020 and offer to the young generations of race walkers nothing less and even more than what we already have, because it is very crucial for our sport to have four individual events and total equality on the World Championships and future Olympic Games programmes," he said.

"Changes are not always an easy thing, but it is absolutely necessary to make race walking more appealing for fans and for young athletes."

The IAAF Race Walking Committee claim a specific pathway has been outlined to give race walkers a three-year transition period to adapt and prepare for the new distances.

A proposal to achieve equality between the sexes at the Olympic Games and major international competitions was also proposed, along with implementing electronic chip insole technology from 2021.

The insole technology, it is claimed, would help judges identify athletes who have not used the correct technique, with both feet leaving the ground.

It was recommended that the technology would be adopted in 2021 if the necessary tests, introduction and distribution of the insole chips are concluded by the end of next year.

The recommendations were reportedly made after broad consultation and consideration of the feedback from Member Federations, athletes, event organisers and several stakeholders, including broadcasters.

It is claimed the proposals "reflect the reality" that the event programme across all major athletics meetings and events will become shorter and more dynamic.

La Sorda takes a different view. 

"Numerous racewalkers from all over the world are protesting against the crazy choice of the IAAF Race Walking Committee to delete the races of 20 and 50km, replacing them with the distances of 10km and 30km, which we consider a useless and ridiculous solution," he said.

In a letter sent to the IAAF President Sebastian Coe - and insidethegames - La Sorda makes four requests.

One is to "keep the current 20km/50km as the international racewalking distances until after the 2024 Olympics. Both women and men".

He also asks to "use this extended time-frame to properly test the new shoe insert technology" and for "work to enhance the current 20km/50km events to make them more attractive to the general viewing public, with a a promotional development project".

The final request is to "visit this issue (if it still exists) again in 2024 once the shoe insert technology has been deemed to work (or not)".

Evan Dunfee of Canada is among those against the proposals ©Getty Images
Evan Dunfee of Canada is among those against the proposals ©Getty Images

There was disquiet in IAAF circles following the introduction of a women's 50km race at the 2017 World Championships in London, where there were only six finishers from a field of seven.

Defenders of the race walking status quo maintain this was because insufficient notice was given to prospective athletes before the event was put into the programme.

Regarding the discussions set to take place tomorrow, an IAAF spokesperson told insidethegames: "There may be a yes/no vote but it's Council's prerogative to decide if they make a decision here. 

"The proposal is on the table. 

"Where it goes from there is in their hands."

The IAAF's deliberations will be informed, however, by the conviction that the International Olympic Committee does not want to add a women's 50km race walk to the Games.

If that is so, then logically the only way for two events for both genders to continue to be present in the Olympics will be to reduce the distances.

What may be the case is that those championing the 50km race walk distance run the risk of ending up with only one event for both genders at future Games - the 20km race walk.