With the end of the Cold War reawakening centuries old ethnic animus, and modernity exerting increasing pressure on limited resources, the reordering of the world continues along a rancorous course. Whether we see it expressed in separatist referenda in Catalonia, Venice and Scotland, or via the ongoing crisis in Crimea, nationalist movements are on the rise as peoples affiliated culturally and linguistically seek independence from the larger nations that contain them.
For much the same reason the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 broke up the old Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) — which had previously regulated all amateur sports across the board — and provided for national governing bodies for each Olympic sport individually. In that restructuring, track and field, race walking and long distance running were lumped together under the same umbrella called The Athletics Congress (TAC), today known as USA Track & Field (USATF).
But just as nations undergo constant shifts in populations and affiliations, so has the relative scope of USATF’s component parts undergone fundamental change in the last three-plus decades. Over that time road racing’s mature numbers have grown to dwarf those of track and race walking, such that road racing has become to track & field what black South Africa had traditionally been to white South Africa during the days of apartheid, a population majority holding a minority political base.
Days of yore
Part of this imbalance stems from the fact that road running was in its infancy when the AAU was broken up. But today, over 30 million Americans are self-professed runners, 15.5 million of whom actively participate in road racing, more than a half-million in marathons alone. Yet, as of December 2013, USATF had a membership of 115,000, 67% of which came from its youth division. What’s more, marathons in Boston, New York, and Columbus, Ohio, which once required USATF membership to gain entry, have long since done away with that requirement, seeing no reciprocal benefit accruing to its entrants for the necessity.
Thus, the questions which culminated in South Africa’s first free elections in 1993 that brought Nelson Mandela to the presidency have, over the years, found their way into the circles of road racing, to wit: should road racing remain under the umbrella of USATF in its minority position, or should it attempt to strike out on its own to form an autonomous union with members of its own ranks, and in so doing allow USATF the freedom to better serve its more historically aligned constituencies? Continue reading