A Call for Transparency from the USATF with Regards to the Disqualification of Gabriele Grunewald

On February 23, 2014, the Track and Field Athletes Association was informed of a decision to disqualify the winner of the women’s 3000m, Gabriele Grunewald. According to the USATF summary of the incident:

“During the women’s 3,000-meter final contested Saturday evening, a meet official raised a yellow flag, indicating a possible field-of-play infraction by a runner. A review of the official’s report by the Women’s Running Head Referee and subsequently by the Jury of Appeal led to a ruling of no infraction. The Jury of Appeal then reviewed additional video evidence and reversed their initial ruling, disqualifying Gabriele Grunewald for a field-of-play infraction impeding Jordan Hasay. Protests and appeals were filed by representatives of athletes during the process. In accordance with USATF Competition Rules 111 and 119, the Jury of Appeal is a three-person panel appointed by the USATF Games Committee. Protests and appeals are governed by USATF Competition Rule 146. The decisions of the Jury of Appeal are final.”

According to the USATF Competition Rules, specifically Rule 119 a):

“The Jury of Appeal shall, as its sole function in matters resulting from a Referee decision, determine if the decision of the Referee or the Chief Race Walking Judge is based upon adequate evidence and within the scope of the authority given to such person. If such determination is in doubt, the Jury of Appeal shall consult with all relevant persons and may consider other available evidence, including any available video evidence. The decision of the Referee or the Chief Race Walking Judge shall be upheld unless shown to be clearly erroneous.”

(Emphasis added.)

According to Rule 119 c):

“The decision of the Jury of Appeal shall be final. There shall be no further right to appeal. The Jury of Appeal may, however, reconsider decisions if new conclusive evidence is presented.”

(Emphasis added.)

As any track runner knows, contact is often made on the track, especially when runners are not assigned to their own lanes. It is up to the officials to determine if contact is severe enough to warrant a disqualification. This is a judgment call, one that someone has to make to the best of their abilities. This judgment call is left up to the Referee and is to be upheld unless clearly erroneous. While we applaud coach Alberto Salazar for filing the protest (this is a coach’s job, in case his or her athlete could benefit), we also applaud the Jury of Appeal’s initial decision to uphold the Referee’s ruling that no infraction occurred, as in no way was the ruling clearly erroneous. There was contact between Jordan Hasay and Gabriele Grunewald, and it is arguable as to who was at fault, if anyone, or if it was incidental.

What happened next is what concerns the TFAA as an organization that represents the collective interests of elite and professional track and field athletes. The appeal was re-opened after Grunewald’s coach and representative were told they could go home, and that the decision of the Jury of Appeal was final. This can only occur, according to the rule book, if there is new AND conclusive evidence that the Referee’s ruling was clearly erroneous. According to Grunewald’s agent Paul Doyle, both his employee, Piotrek Buciarski, as well as Grunewald’s coach Dennis Barker were told by Eagle Eye (digital video timing company at the meet) employees that the same video originally submitted was submitted again. According to the USATF statement quoted above, there was new video evidence submitted.

Was there new video evidence submitted or not?

Where did new video evidence come from that wasn’t available for the Jury of Appeal the first time they reviewed the ruling?

Why was Grunewald’s representative or coach not allowed to see this new footage?

What was so different about this video footage that it was deemed conclusive evidence that the Referee’s ruling was clearly erroneous and that she did indeed commit an infraction worthy of disqualification?

Who deemed the evidence to be new and conclusive and therefore allowed the appeal to be re-opened?

The lack of transparency in this situation is unacceptable. The TFAA reached out Sunday afternoon, February 23, 2014, to the USATF to ask that a committee be formed to thoroughly review these events that occurred on February 22. We requested that at least two athletes appointed by the TFAA sit on the committee. As of this morning, we have yet to get a response. Time is of the essence, as a national team is being decided for the World Indoor Championships, and the deadline to submit the team roster is today, February 24, at 5:00pm ET.

The USATF Indoor Championships were supposed to result in fielding the best team possible for the World Indoor Championships in Poland in two weeks. The USATF is responsible for conducting the meet, and all meets under their tutelage, in such a way that the rules in their published rule book are applied equally to all athletes. All athletes have the right to be treated fairly according to the same set of rules. They have the right to a clear, transparent process. They have the right to clarification and information from the governing body, within a prompt time frame, especially when actions taken by the governing body result in an athlete losing a spot on a national team, losing prize money or other monetary compensation, or when the actions otherwise affect the athletes’ livelihood and career.

We are calling on the USATF for transparency. We are calling on them to release the video evidence that was conclusive enough to re-open the appeal and disqualify the clear winner of the women’s 3000m from her national team spot. We are calling on them to return the calls of Grunewald’s agent and coach and to be honest and thorough in their explanation as to why a decision that was said to be final was then reversed. We are calling on them to release this information to the public. It is unacceptable to treat an athlete that is a potential member of Team USA in this manner. Unlike some other countries, the United States holds team trials for the purpose of fielding national teams in a fair and objective way. Gabriele Grunewald competed in the team trials and earned her national team spot fairly, and yet it was still taken away from her. This is not what Team USA is supposed to be about. We will not stand for a fellow athlete to be treated this way.

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