Opening ceremony, World Championships in Daegu 2011 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Monaco

Small is beautiful: how more than 200 nations will make it to Moscow

The IAAF World Championships are not all about the athletics powerhouses from the likes of the USA or Russia.

No less than 206 nations are set to compete at Moscow 2013 and the IAAF is playing their part in helping many of the small teams enjoy a taste of the action, too.

IAAF competitions co-ordinator Celine Bianchi and IAAF travel manager Nathalie Jurinic explain how many Member Federations that will not feature among the medals will still be able to be proudly represented.

Q: What qualifies as a small team?

Celine Bianchi: Small for us is a small Member Federation with less means. Often these countries come from Africa and Asia, as well as South and Central America, who rely on the IAAF to pay for tickets and assist with everything. 

The small teams often come from very remote places. In the past, all nations were eligible to send one unqualified male and one unqualified female athlete, but that rule has now changed and each team with unqualified athletes is limited to one individual only.

New Zealand, for example, took a team of one (Valerie Adams, who won the Shot Put gold medal) to Istanbul for the 2012 World Indoor Championships they didn't qualify as a small team because they are not a small member federation.

Q: What support does the IAAF offers small teams?

CB: We cover travel and accommodation (in twin rooms) costs for athletes only, single rooms are subject to an extra cost. We can either issue the ticket or refund it. It’s the same rule for the big teams such as the USA and Germany, but they generally make their own travel arrangements.

For the IAAF World Championships, we cover travel and accommodation of all participating athletes. For the Juniors and Youths, we work with quotas.

Q: How important are the small teams for the event?

CB: They maybe attract less media interest but their athletes are part of the event and we have to welcome them.  It is nice to see athletes compete from remote countries. It is nice to see that cultural contrast.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face with the small teams?

CB: We face a lot of challenges. Some of the member federations are very small and getting information can be a problem. Another big challenge is getting the visas. This can be a real issue, because it is not only a sport issue but a political issue, and we are not a political organisation. So, we can't force an embassy to issue a visa.

Q: What about transport?

CB: Organising flights can be tricky. At the recent IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk, we issued a ticket for a competitor in Mali who had four stopovers to make it to Ukraine. We try our best to shorten flight times, but sometimes it is impossible.

Q: How do you go about organising that?

Nathalie Jurinic: We contact all the federations one-by-one and deal with them in terms of their travel or reimbursement for travel. We don't deal with the individual athletes. Our duty is to deal with the federation directly. 

Q: Do you find the small teams are very appreciative of what the IAAF do?

CB People are very grateful. In 2010, at the IAAF World Junior Championships, we managed to get two young athletes one of whom was from Guinea Bissau and the federation mentioned my name to them. It is not a major revolution for the sport, but it does give young athletes the chance to compete at a major championship.

Still in Moncton, a young athlete from Mauritius kissed me on the very last day and just said: “Thanks for everything, it was so great”. For me, that’s more rewarding than a medal.

NJ: It does happen. We all get to know each other. We are at the accreditation centre (at the championships), so we always get to know the officials.

Q: What value do the small teams bring to major championships?

CB: The more participants the IAAF has, the better it is. We are trying to treat people equally and trying to help as many people as we can. It is not just a question of participation. We have many federations and we will try to help them all in any way we can.

NJ: It is great because they are the sport. I like the spirit of athletes competing from nearly every country in the world, otherwise you just end up with maybe 10 countries and athletics would then be limited. The presence of the smaller teams gives us the opportunity to mix the countries and experiences.

Steve Landells for the IAAF