World Athletics has proposed new competitions in its newly published four-year Strategy for Growth ©World Athletics

Alternating Road and Off-Road Championships and the inclusion of cross country at the Olympics are among the goals in World Athletics’ Strategic Plan for 2020-2023, published today.

A biennial World Athletics Road Championships combining the World Half Marathon, a mass participation race and other elements such as the World Race Walking Team Championships is proposed in the four-year Plan.

A World Athletics Off-Road Championships is proposed for the intervening years, which could combine the World Athletics Cross Country Championships with other disciplines such as trail or mountain running.

World Athletics will also push ahead with efforts to get cross-country into the Winter Olympics.

Following Sunday’s announcement of a new partnership with parkrun, which will attempt to maintain the momentum of those who have boosted exercise levels during lockdown by providing a network of running events associated with World Championship venues, World Athletics makes increasing participation one of its central missions.

"Our overarching vision and the purpose of this Strategic Plan is to grow the whole of our sport," the document, entitled Strategy for Growth, says in its Executive Summary.

World Athletics is to push ahead with trying to get cross country racing into the Olympics, its newly published four-year strategic plan maintains ©Getty Images
World Athletics is to push ahead with trying to get cross country racing into the Olympics, its newly published four-year strategic plan maintains ©Getty Images

"We know that in the short term this will initially be restricted by the social distancing guidelines the world is under but on the other hand, the vital importance of daily exercise in maintaining fitness and health during this time has resulted in many people taking up walking and running and playing simple games involving running, jumping and throwing with their families.

"In many ways, there has never been a better time for us to recognise and build on what our sport can offer, in its purest form."

The introduction states: "World Athletics is often thought of largely in terms of elite track and field.

"However, we are the global governing body for the whole sport, across all its forms and across the entire planet – from competitive and leisure activities for all ages and abilities.

"This strategic plan recognises that responsibility and embraces the broadest possible definition of our sport:  Track and field, Road running, Cross country, Race walking, Mountain and trail running."

According to the plan’s timelines, the "Aggregated Road/Off Road Championships" will be ready to deliver at the start of 2023 and the same timescale is envisaged for the "Inclusion of Cross Country into Olympics."

Regarding the proposed new Road Championships, the document describes them as: "A weekend celebration of running combining world class elite events and athletes with mass participation competitors.

"World Athletics Road Championships will bring together the World Half Marathon Championships, a significant mass participation component and other potential elements such as the World Race Walking Team Championships, an Ekiden relay or a World 5k Championship.

"There is also the possibility of hosting a World Athletics Off-Road Championship in the intervening years which could combine the World Cross Country Championships with other off-road disciplines {trail, mountain running, etc.}"

There was an early positive reaction to this element of the strategy from Canada’s world 50km race walk bronze medallist Evan McFee, who tweeted: "Very pro an alternating World Road Championships {with half-marathon, race walk, Ekiden, 5km} and World Off Road Champs {XC, mountain/trail}.

On the subject of cross country, the document says World Athletics will seek to "extend the reach of the Olympic Games by working with IOC and other stakeholders to include cross country within the athletics programme."

Aside from participation, the other main target areas for World Athletics over the next four years concern People, Fans and Partnerships.

Among the aspirations are doubling the number of new recruits who support delivery of the sport, whether they be coaches or other officials.

There are plans to increase broadcast reach by "at least 10 per cent" and to double the sport’s digital following.

Another stated ambition is to double the number of commercial and non-commercial partners.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe commented: "A huge amount of work has been put into developing our four-year Strategic Plan, led by our chief executive Jon Ridgeon.

"This is an exceptional body of work that brings together all the great things we do as a global sport body with a laser sharp focus on doing it better, and includes some innovative and creative ideas to drive growth in our sport."

The full Strategic Plan can be read here