By Kent Gray/ in Paris
Could New Zealand become a stop on the new-look PTO-powered, World Triathlon-endorsed long distance world circuit?

That became a very real prospect when the sport’s world governing body and the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) announced their ground-breaking partnership on the sidelines of the Olympic test event in Paris overnight NZT.

The new World Championship Tour of Long Distance Triathlon will launch in 2024 with as many as six races over the PTO’s trademark 100km ‘made for TV’ distance.

It will see fields of 20 male and female professionals compete at each race, drawn from a pool of contracted athletes if the longer term PTO-World Triathlon blueprint comes to pass.

In addition to that much needed ‘season-long narrative’ for the sport’s long-distance elites, the new partnership will offer racing for age group athletes via qualification races at national federation level.

That will likely see a 100km race integrated into the Tri NZ Suzuki Series, incorporating the already established Tri NZ to World Triathlon championship qualification process.

While the 2024 schedule won’t be confirmed until October, the series is set to include a global finale after as many as five Continental Championships in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. understands the Oceania slot has been offered to Australia in 2024 although could be put out to tender for 2025 onwards if next year’s venue cannot be confirmed in time.

As with the current PTO events, the 20 male and female athletes at each new race will be made up by the 16 highest ranked athletes available on the PTO world ranking list, plus four wildcards.

Although the professional world championship title will be awarded through a season-long points competition, the age group title will be determined at a single race which will rotate between PTO Tour locations and provide an opportunity for amateur athletes around the world to strive towards world championship status.

All events will be contested over the PTO’s current non-drafting 100km distance (2km swim, 80km bike, 18km run) and operate under World Triathlon rules.

Anti-Doping, technical delegate support at all events and an extensive marketing and commercial collaboration will also be rolled out.

“This collaboration signifies a powerful alliance that underscores our shared commitment to elevating the sport of triathlon to new heights,” said World Triathlon President Marisol Casado.

“Together, we have the opportunity to create a more inclusive, fair, competitive and sustainable landscape for athletes, fans and stakeholders alike. This partnership exemplifies the immense potential that emerges when organisations align their visions and resources, ultimately fostering a thriving environment for the sport we all cherish.

PTO Executive Chairman, Chris Kermode, who has previously held a number of leadership positions in tennis, rising to the role of Executive Chairman and President of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), said: “When new formats and organisations emerge in sport, they often have the unintended impact of fragmenting the very sport they aim to promote. In contrast, by uniting together the professional athlete body of the PTO with the international federation of World Triathlon, this partnership has the opportunity to unite the sport under the common goal of growing triathlon – which is essential for the sport to become mainstream.”

PTO CEO, Sam Renouf, himself a former international triathlete and then senior executive at The Active Network, a global leader in growing sports participation businesses, added: “Given the importance of the Olympics and short course racing on the traditional federation funding model, long distance triathlon has largely been left to the ‘private sector’ of for-profit promoters; leading to a fragmented and uncoordinated calendar for both athletes and fans.

“In partnering together to recognise the PTO Tour as the official tour of long distance triathlon, the PTO and World Triathlon are both elevating long distance triathlon and bringing this part of the sport back into the fold of the World Triathlon family.”

Renouf is also buoyed by the possibilities the new partnership will create for weekend warriors.

“On the Age Group side, we jointly recognise the uniqueness in triathlon that athletes of any age can strive for and qualify to represent their country in an officially recognised World Championship. The inclusion of Age Group Championship racing throughout the PTO Tour will provide ‘bucket list’ racing opportunities for the global Age Group community, much as the World Marathon Majors have united the global running community.”

Current PTO Athlete Board member and PTO World No.6, Paula Findlay, highlighted the importance of the agreement from an athlete perspective: “As an athlete who’s represented their country at both the Olympics and World Triathlon Championship Series, if you compete and win at the pinnacle of your sport, you want that achievement to be recognised as it is at other distances in triathlon and in all other sports – by calling yourself a world champion. “Through the eyes of the professional athletes who set up and co-own the PTO, it is a significant step forward.”

“This partnership is not only focused on the launch a new tour of long distance in triathlon, but also on a series of services that World Triathlon and the PTO will be working on together to make the events fairer, more competitive and sustainable. This includes a newly expanded anti-doping program for long distance racing, further details of which will be announced soon.

The Competition Jury appeals will be delivered through the World Triathlon system, including going to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) when needed. World Triathlon will also provide an extensive athlete support system and will implement the guidelines on Safeguarding as well as technical support, including a World Triathlon Technical Delegate on each stop of the new tour.

Former PTO Athlete Board member and current IOC Athletes’ Commission member, Alistair Brownlee, who has competed on the PTO Tour over the last two seasons, underlined the importance of the partnership in bringing the sport together to move forward: “I want to see more people watching top level long distance triathlon, being inspired by seeing the top athletes racing,” Brownlee said.

“It’s crucial that the PTO Tour succeeds and I’m convinced that the PTO Tour’s success is triathlon’s success. It’s tough to create something new but ultimately it will benefit every triathlete, so having the PTO join forces with World Triathlon to also add important support services and work more closely together keeps things moving in the right direction.”

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