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No, World Athletics has not introduced new rule to reward ‘non-East African runners’ in marathons

IN SHORT: An eye-catching announcement attributed to the athletics governing body is not what it seems - it is satire, but has been taken out of context in many online forums.

A screenshot of an article posted on Facebook in October 2023 claims that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has introduced a new marathon rule - that from 2023, medals will be awarded to “the best non- East African runners in addition to the overall winners”.

According to the article, IAAF president Sebastian Coe said this was to “encourage diversity and inclusivity” in the sport because East African runners had a “natural advantage” over others. 

“We hope that by giving medals to the best non-East African runners, we can motivate them to improve their performance and challenge the East African supremacy,” the article quoted Coe as saying.

The screenshot circulated online after Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum won the Chicago Marathon on 8 October with an unofficial time of 2 hours and 35 seconds, becoming the world record holder.

If the record is confirmed, Kiptum will have dethroned two-time Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, who set his mark at the Berlin Marathon in 2022.


Proposed rule change unfair

The screenshot was shared on Facebook here, here, here, here and here, including by some mainstream media outlets (archived here). Kenyans had mixed reactions to the alleged change, with many seeing it as discriminatory.

“Racism in athletics. Medals will be awarded to the best non East African athletes.Why can't the best East African athletes be awarded medals in field events or sprints where they are struggling?” said one user.

“This is nonsense on stilts. If you can’t beat us clap for us and give us your money! In order to truly drive this equality and inclusion agenda, we demand medals for non-European/American athletes in other disciplines e.g. Fencing, Biking, rowing, pole vault etc,” another Facebook user wrote.

Another posted the screenshot captioned: “I think also for the purpose of fairness and in the spirit of fair competition in sport CAF should also have a different AFCON awarding format that favours the East African teams because they can't compete with the dominant North and West Africa.”

So are the athletics authorities planning such a rule change? We checked, as issues of excluding African athletes are sensitive in Africa, as seen in the case of South African runner Caster Semenya, among others.

Post traced back to satirical website

An early warning sign is the article’s reference to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). In 2019 the organisation changed its name to World Athletics.

We searched the World Athletics X account and found no official statement or news regarding the rumoured marathon rule change. 

We searched the headline of the article on Google and found that it came from PostaMate, a Kenyan website. The site’s "About" page makes it clear it is satire, having “started as signal newsletter in the year 1492 in the Congo Basin, where it would send a daily smoke signal broadcast to the entire region”.

The site’s tagline is “Home of Satire and Sarcasm”. 

The PostaMate article has no basis in fact. It’s satire - which is a broad category, but can be defined as “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices”.

The article appears to be intended as satire, but was shared without this context, misleading some people.

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