PITTSBURGH – The Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the sports industry. The event calendar for athletes, organizers, and fans has vanished – track & field is no exception. While the world struggles to deal with the consequences of this crisis, our track & field professionals are challenged in ways they never imagined. The USATF Foundation and its Board of Directors recognize this hardship and have been actively working to find solutions for America’s Olympic hopefuls. Hundreds of track & field professional athletes are in severe financial trouble because nearly all of the opportunities to compete and earn income have been cancelled or postponed.
Last month, The USATF Foundation hosted a virtual town hall meeting to speak with the athletes directly to understand their individual issues. Over 30 athletes participated, all communicating that 2020 would be a difficult year not only to secure adequate training but to make ends meet.
With this need in mind, the Foundation has taken a leadership role on several fronts, the first being increased and broader financial support of athletes. With the Foundation’s Elite Athlete Development Program grants on the horizon, financial funding will be at an all-time high. Over 150 athletes are expected to receive direct support from the Foundation in 2020. The athletes also recognize they can make a difference. During the town hall, many current USATF Foundation grantees expressed a desire to forgo their allotted grant award in an effort to allow the USATF Foundation to help a greater number of deserving and troubled athletes.
“The Foundation has always done a phenomenal job with their efforts of open communication with their grant recipients. This spirit was heightened in the wake of the pandemic, as the Foundation’s Board put on several meetings to discover the needs and concerns the athletes may be facing while factoring in the social, emotional, and physical challenges. Additionally, the Board looked to locate possible opportunities where they could lend a helping hand. I am happy to be a Stephen A. Schwarzman Grant Recipient but admire all the Foundation has done for me in the midst of these uncertain times,” stated USATF Foundation grantee and two-time Olympic Champion Christian Taylor.
The Foundation also quickly realized during the town hall that athletes were having difficulty navigating the federal and state assistance programs that are available. USATF Foundation Director, Mark Lambert, who is a Partner at Cooley LLP, assembled a team of Cooley attorneys who generously donated their time and talents to guide athletes through the programs available to them. James Rathmell, Chloe Kaufman, and Shannan Higgins created a guide for track & field athletes to reference when searching for assistance as well as hosting a webcast, which allowed the athletes the opportunity to ask questions and get personal assistance.
Additionally, the USATF Foundation and USATF partnered to donate funds for elite track & field athletes to purchase portable training equipment. Since many state and/or local municipalities have placed restrictions on facilities where larger groups may gather, gyms and weight rooms are often closed or unavailable. To assist in bridging the gap between now and when restrictions are lifted, funds have been allocated to each Tier and TPP athlete in the amount of $400 towards the purchase of equipment for home use.