World Athletics amends rules governing shoe technology and Olympic qualification system

Press release:

World Athletics today announces further revisions to its rules governing shoe technology, which are designed to give certainty to athletes preparing for the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and to preserve the integrity of elite competition.

These amendments, approved by the World Athletics Council and introduced with immediate effect, are based on significant ongoing discussions with the Working Group on Athletic Shoes, established this year, and with the shoe manufacturers.

They include changes to the maximum height of spiked shoes for track and field events and the establishment of an ‘Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme’ for unsponsored elite athletes. The maximum height for road shoes (40mm) remains unchanged.

The purpose of these amendments is to maintain the current technology status quo until the Olympic Games in Tokyo across all events until a newly formed Working Group on Athletic Shoes, which includes representatives from shoe manufacturers and the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI), have had the opportunity to set the parameters for achieving the right balance between innovation, competitive advantage and universality and availability.

The amendments include:

  1. Clarification of the position for new shoes that have been approved to date;
  2. As an ongoing obligation, athletes, their authorised representative or their shoe manufacturer must continue to submit shoe specifications and, if requested, new shoes for examination by our independent expert;
  3. Approved shoes to be made available prior to an international competition for distribution to any uncontracted elite athlete via an Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme. The Working Group on Athletic Shoes will develop this scheme including timelines, elite athlete criteria, numbers of pairs of shoes required and method of distribution.
  4. Confirmation that the manufacturer commits to making the new shoe available via a scheme to provide shoes to unsponsored elite athletes for free and/or for purchase depending on whether they are qualified or an unqualified athlete who benefits from a place at World Athletics Series events or Olympic Games;
  5. Provision of information concerning the availability of the shoe for other unsponsored elite athletes who need a pair of shoes prior to competition. This is in keeping with the principle of shoes being reasonably available to athletes. As a priority item, in its forthcoming meeting we will work with the working group and World Federation of Sports Goods Industry to design an ‘Athletic Shoe Availability Scheme’ to deliver this. The scheme will cover process, criteria, numbers of pairs of shoes required, method of distribution and when the shoe needs to be available from (our position, which has been generally accepted by manufacturers, is for one month prior to international competition). 


The maximum height of athletics shoes have been amended as set out in the table below:

EventMaximum thickness of the sole (As per rule 5.5, notes (i), (ii), (iii) and figures (a) & (b) to rule 5.5, and rule 5.13.3).Further rule requirement
Field events (except triple jump)20mmApplies to all throwing events, and vertical and horizontal jumping events except the triple jump. For all field events, the sole at the centre of the athlete’s forefoot must not be higher than the sole at centre of the athlete’s heel.
Triple jump25mmThe sole at the centre of the athlete’s forefoot must not be higher than the sole at centre of the athlete’s heel.
Track events (including hurdle events) up to but not including 800m20mmFor relays the rule applies to the distance of the leg being run by each athlete.
Track events from 800m and above (including steeplechase events)25mmFor relays the rule applies to the distance of the leg being run by each athlete. For race walking events the maximum thickness of the sole is the same as that for road events.
Cross country25mm 
Road events (running and race walking events)40mm 
Events under rule 57 of the technical rulesAny thickness 

World Athletics CEO Jon Ridgeon said the previous rule changes, announced in late January, were designed to give the athletes clarity before the Tokyo Olympic Games, which were originally due to take place in July-August this year.

However the later postponement of the Olympic Games for a full year, due to the global pandemic, had given the governing body more time to consult with stakeholders and experts and develop amended rules that will guide the sport through until late 2021.

“We have a better understanding now of what technology is already in the market and where we need to draw the line to maintain the status quo until after the Tokyo Olympic Games,” Ridgeon said. 

“In developing these rules we have been mindful of the principles of fair play and universality, maintaining the health and safety of athletes, reflecting the existing shoe market in these challenging economic times, and achieving a broad consensus with the shoe manufacturers who are major investors in our sport.

“These transitional rules give us more time to develop a set of working rules for the long term, which will be introduced after the Olympic Games next year, with the aim of achieving the right balance between innovation, competitive advantage and universality.”

Working Group on Athletic Shoes

The new Working Group on Athletic Shoes (WGAS) met for their first meeting last Wednesday (22 July). It is tasked with scoping and overseeing studies around shoe technology, exploring definitions to provide clarity to athletes about the shoes they are able to compete in, creating a robust certification and control process and providing expert advice and recommendations to the World Athletics Competition Commission on the future direction of World Athletics’ Rules and Regulations concerning elite athlete shoes for the long-term which may or may not be different to the current rules. The structure and composition of the WGAS can be found here.

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World Athletics modifies rules governing competition shoes for elite athletes

Media Release:

World Athletics has today amended its rules governing competition shoes to provide greater clarity to athletes and shoe manufacturers around the world and to protect the integrity of the sport.

The rule amendments (link) that the World Athletics Council has this week approved were recommended by its Assistance Review Group, an internal working group containing technical, scientific and legal experts as well as athlete representatives.

From 30 April 2020, any shoe must have been available for purchase by any athlete on the open retail market (online or in store) for a period of four months before it can be used in competition.

If a shoe is not openly available to all then it will be deemed a prototype and use of it in competition will not be permitted. Subject to compliance with the rules, any shoe that is available to all, but is customised for aesthetic reasons, or for medical reasons to suit the characteristics of a particular athlete’s foot, will be allowed.

Where World Athletics has reason to believe that a type of shoe or specific technology may not be compliant with the rules or the spirit of the rules, it may submit the shoe or technology for study and may prohibit the use of the shoe or technology while it is under examination.

Further, with immediate effect there will be an indefinite moratorium on any shoe (whether with or without spikes) that does not meet the following requirements:

  • The sole must be no thicker than 40mm.
  • The shoe must not contain more than one rigid embedded plate or blade (of any material) that runs either the full length or only part of the length of the shoe. The plate may be in more than one part but those parts must be located sequentially in one plane (not stacked or in parallel) and must not overlap.
  • For a shoe with spikes, an additional plate (to the plate mentioned above) or other mechanism is permitted, but only for the purpose of attaching the spikes to the sole, and the sole must be no thicker than 30mm.


The competition referee will have the power to request that an athlete immediately provide their shoes for inspection at the conclusion of a race if the referee has a reasonable suspicion that the shoes worn by an athlete do not comply with the rules.

The Assistance Review Group has concluded that there is independent research that indicates that the new technology incorporated in the soles of road and spiked shoes may provide a performance advantage and there is sufficient evidence to raise concerns that the integrity of the sport might be threatened by the recent developments in shoe technology.

It has therefore recommended that further research be undertaken to establish the true impact of this technology and that a new working group, comprising biomechanics specialists and other qualified experts, be formed to oversee this research, and to assess any new shoes that enter the market, where required. Shoe manufacturers will be invited to be part of this assessment process.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said: “It is not our job to regulate the entire sports shoe market but it is our duty to preserve the integrity of elite competition by ensuring that the shoes worn by elite athletes in competition do not offer any unfair assistance or advantage. As we enter the Olympic year, we don’t believe we can rule out shoes that have been generally available for a considerable period of time, but we can draw a line by prohibiting the use of shoes that go further than what is currently on the market while we investigate further.

“I believe these new rules strike the right balance by offering certainty to athletes and manufacturers as they prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, while addressing the concerns that have been raised about shoe technology. If further evidence becomes available that indicates we need to tighten up these rules, we reserve the right to do that to protect our sport.”

“I would like to thank the Assistance Review Group, chaired by International Technical Official Brian Roe, for its diligent examination of this issue and sound guidance.”

World Athletics will now establish an expert working group to guide future research into shoe technology (and consider any regulatory implications that that research might have), and to assess new shoes that emerge on the market. This group will report to the Competitions Commission, and ultimately to the Council.

World Athletics remains open to continued dialogue with shoe manufacturers and other interested stakeholders regarding the amended rules and their impact as well as the broader question of how to balance shoe technology and innovation with World Athletics’ legitimate interest in preserving integrity in its sport.

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