CrossFit Games

Does The Alternate Rule Need An Alternate?

August 5, 2023 by
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For athletes of all divisions, the check-in process is one of the most exciting times at the Games. It’s a kick-off for the culmination of their hard work and as they’re handed their NoBull bags filled with gear, an excited anticipation fills the room. But for the crew at CrossFit Believe, they had no way of knowing that this would be one of their few and only experiences as athletes at the CrossFit Games.

One big thing: Just one hour after CrossFit Believe checked into the CrossFit Games, team member Josh Mattes fell and sustained injuries that forced him to withdraw from the competition.

  • While Mattes withdrew due to his injuries prior to the start of Test 1 in the team competition, CrossFit stood firm on their ruling that once teams have checked in, the use of alternate athletes is no longer allowed.
  • This specific scenario has stirred up a great deal of controversy in the CrossFit community, with many fans and supporters of CrossFit Believe saying that CrossFit unfairly applied the fine print of the rule to a team in an unfortunate situation.

The details: Just one day before the team competition was set to start, team member Josh Mattes was experimenting with a handstand walk ramp at a local affiliate when he fell after his hand slipped.

  • His fall on the unpadded ramp resulted in 5 different breaks in his nose and a trip in the ambulance to the hospital where he received emergency plastic surgery.

Luckily for Mattes, after his fall, first responder and fellow competitor Josh Hardin jumped into action.

  • Hardin is a firefighter from Charlotte, NC, and a competitor for CrossFit CLT The Grit Haus, who came in sixth at the North America East Semifinal.
  • After Mattes’ fall, Hardin and fellow gym-goer Cody Acree (brother of upper extremity adaptive champion, Casey Acree) held towels over Mattes’ face and talked him through the challenging time until the ambulance arrived, as Mattes was conscious the entire time.
  • “I literally had never met these guys and they helped me tremendously in a time of need when I was absolutely helpless,” said Mattes in an Instagram story.
  • “I was just glad I was there, I mostly cleaned some blood off his hands and helped talk to him and keep him calm,” said Hardin continuing to say that he did what he could until first responders showed up.

Unfortunately for Mattes, he would be rushed to the hospital to receive emergency facial reconstruction surgery. While he was released late last night, it will still be about two more weeks until he can return to exercising.

  • While doctors feel good that his nose will eventually return to full functionality, Mattes will be unable to compete with his team in the 2023 CrossFit Games due to his injuries.
  • Because of this, Mattes’s entire team was also be forced to withdraw from the competition, as they are no longer allowed to utilize their male alternate.

Remind me: CrossFit’s rule regarding alternates in the team competition is that once a team has checked in, they are no longer allowed to utilize their 2 optional alternates. From the 2023 CrossFit Games Rulebook: 

  • “Once the two men and two women have checked in onsite, no other athlete will be involved during the competition. The two remaining members of the team’s competition roster may only be used should a team member be unexpectedly injured or forced to withdraw prior to check-in,”
  • Unlike sports like soccer or football, where substituting players throughout the course of play is commonplace, CrossFit has long upheld the rule that the role of alternates was only to serve in place of injury or inability to compete prior to the start of the competition.
  • It is this rule that prevents teams from swapping athletes mid-competition if a movement, skill, or weight appears that an athlete on a team cannot perform or an alternate might perform better.

For Mattes, the pain of the ramifications of this incident spans beyond just the injuries to his face.

  • To my teammates, I am so sorry. I am in so much pain, but the pain of being unable to compete and captain my team is much worse. I put everything into this sport and this is a very challenging time,” said Mattes in an Instagram post following the accident.
  • “The pain of Facetiming Lauren and Shelby [Mattes’ teammates] before rushing to surgery with my face broken to tell them I wouldn’t be able to compete was one of the worst feelings ever,”

But beyond the pain of not just being able to compete, Mattes knows that his injuries have also prohibited his entire team from even competing at all. In an Instagram post following his facial surgeries, Mattes detailed his feelings regarding CrossFit’s implementation of the rule.

  • “Crossfit not allowing my teammates and our alternate Male to compete hurts very badly,” he said.
  • “I (We) love our sport and earned our way to be here. For one of my female teammates, this was her last opportunity, because she will be focusing on growing her family. She was putting this off until our season was over. 3 of us are over 31 or older. It is unfair,” he continued.
  • In an interview with Morning Chalk Up, Mattes further expressed his frustration that despite a tenth-place finish at semifinals, the workouts appeared to be right inside his teams’ wheelhouse.
  • “We were one of those teams that had some really high finishes at semifinals and then some in the bottom. The events announced for the Games were all ones similar to the ones we had our best finishes in,” he said.

Mattes is not alone in his frustrations. Since the ruling that CrossFit Believe would not be allowed to compete in the team competition, many have taken to social media to voice their disdain for CrossFit’s strict adherence in a situation that has a great deal of nuance.

  • All this chatter has brought up the question of whether or not the rule needs to be modified or allowed exceptions.

On the one hand, as CrossFit continues to grow as a sport, strict adherence to policy and rules will allow CrossFit to further prove its legitimacy in the larger sporting arena.

  • Especially with the return to ESPN, all eyes will continue to look towards CrossFit to provide a fair and equitable sporting event that works to determine the fittest on earth.

However, in a situation like this, many other factors need to be considered. Beyond the time and effort put in to train for an event like the CrossFit Games, there are a number of financial factors that go into making an event like this possible for an affiliate like CrossFit Believe.

  • In many cases, small teams, especially rookie teams like CrossFit Believe, don’t have major sponsorship dollars funding their training or travel and other expenses for an event as big as the Games.
  • It can cost thousands of dollars in flights, hotels, food, and registration expenses.
  • Moreover, athletes who are not competing as their full-time careers, often have to utilize PTO or in some cases unpaid time off from their work.
  • In 2021, Morning Chalk Up reported that international teams could spend as much as $20,000 just to compete at the Games.

Not only that but if CrossFit is looking to continue to grow the sport, especially on the team side, athletes need to know that they’re being treated fairly and have some degree of trust in CrossFit to do the right thing if they are to make such a massive investment both personally and financially.

  • While it has been stated over and over that CrossFit is well within their rights to stand by their rulebook, now if any would be the time to show empathy towards a team of athletes simply looking to reap the fruits of their labor.
  • In the case of many teams, there isn’t a million-dollar sponsorship deal on the other end of the Games.
  • They do it for themselves and those who believe in and support them, not because they’re trying to make a quick buck or achieve instant fame.
  • Because if that were the case, there are certainly easier routes to take than spending 6-8 hours in a CrossFit gym every day.

Despite all that, Mattes’ knows that he will make a comeback from this. In an interview with Morning Chalk Up, he stated that he hoped to make it back next year with a high-level team.

  • “I know I had a great year as an individual,” he said. “I think I’d be a good addition to some other teams next year,” he continued.
  • “My goal would be to be on a high-level team and make it back to the Games once I get all healed up,” Mattes concluded, indicating that he’s already been contacted by several other teams looking to possibly add him to a roster for next year’s team competition.
  • “But for now, I’m a free agent,” he added.

The big picture: In the case of CrossFit Believe, it was clear that they weren’t trying to skirt any rules or receive special treatment. Josh Mattes experienced a tragic freak accident that was well outside of his and his teammates’ control. The team hadn’t even attended Opening ceremonies and had checked in just before.

While CrossFit is well within its right to uphold the rules it set forth at the beginning of the season, it’s instances like these that prove it might be time to rethink some of those rules and perhaps allow for exceptions in such extreme circumstances. CrossFit could easily modify the rule to be that athletes may utilize alternates up until the Opening Ceremonies or even the start of the first workout.

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