Second Sanctionals Season Expands Wildcard Uses

Jan 16, 2020 by

What started as a ready-made way to allow top CrossFit Games athletes a chance to bypass regular online qualifiers has expanded in year two of the new Sanctionals format. 

  • Last season, nine of 15 Sanctionals (60%) used the wildcard system to invite athletes directly to their event and bypass a qualifier. 
  • This season, that number increased to at least 12 of 27, though it appears the number will be closer to 16 or 17 as organizers of later season events are still finalizing details. 

The details: There are two big factors at play: 1) More than two-thirds of all Sanctionals are using unified qualifiers broadening the ability for athletes to qualify for multiple events at once, and 2). Sanctionals have expanded “earned exemption” criteria to include a fair amount of previous Games athletes. 

  • Thirteen events chose to use the CrossFit Open as their online qualifier this season, compared to only one last season (Down Under CrossFit Championship). 
  • The International Online Qualifier, implemented in two phases, qualified athletes for seven total Sanctionals
  • The CrossFit Italian Showdown eliminated their qualifier altogether.

Earned exemptions: Big name athletes are largely considered to be a major draw to fill seats, a sentiment that’s been echoed privately during multiple conversations with Sanctionals organizers. Instead of using wildcards, however, many are using “earned exemptions” for athletes placing in top spots in the Open and 2019 Games. By and large, this exemption is broad enough to invite the biggest names in the sport. 

  • There are at least eleven Sanctionals utilizing earned exemptions through the Open and Games. 
  • Multiple Santionals allow athletes to apply for an exemption much later in the season after the Open dust has settled. 

One big thing: Athletes who will qualify through the Open don’t need a Sanctional to get to the Games. In a ten-month-long season, it’s damn near impossible to get a top 10 Games athlete to commit to an event in May or June when it’s October. Wildcards and earned exemptions allow athletes like that to essentially defer the decision and apply later.

Why are wildcards so common: Big name athletes are largely considered to be a major draw to fill seats, a sentiment that’s been echoed privately during multiple conversations with Sanctionals organizers. 

  • Filthy 150 initially announced six wildcard invites, however ended up handing out more. Organizers said it was “to accommodate athletes that will enhance the competitiveness of the weekend.”
  • Strength in Depth and their star-studded lineup next weekend had to add more than a thousand additional seats to accommodate a sold out crowd in NOCCO arena. 

Other uses for the wildcard: Down Under CrossFit Championship is using their wildcard as an opportunity for the community to nominate an athlete who was unable to do the Open. 

  • Event Director Mick Shaw: “We know of a bunch of male and female athletes for a variety of reasons were not able to complete the CrossFit Open. To assist these athletes  [to] possibly gain a position at the DUCC we thought it would be great if the CrossFit Community voted for the athlete or athletes they felt were most deserving.”
  • Two examples are James Newbury and Erin Vandendriessche, who both suffered injuries that ended their Open bids. 

The bottom line: We’re only in the second season under this new format and there’s still no clear consensus on how wildcards should be used, if at all. With more Sanctionals using wildcards than not, this system of building the roster doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. 


Down Under CrossFit Championship | Filthy 150 | Rogue Invitational | Wodapalooza | West Coast CrossFit Classic | Mayan CrossFit Classic | Madrid CrossFit Championship | CrossFit Games | CrossFit Strength in Depth

Hunter McIntyre | James Newbury | Ben Smith



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