It has been a long road out of the moral wasteland of amateurism for running, and the sport still hasn’t made it all the way home. In those critical years when the fight to open the sport was more of a pitched battle, a 38th-parallel type solution (see Korean Conflict) gave both sides breathing room, but left the sport a hybrid in the general public’s eye, neither amateur nor professional.
That truce remains largely in place today as the sport has formed up around independent contractor and event models that have rebuffed top-down cohesion while maintaining a vestige of its the amateur past by hiding what stakes it does offer in shoe contracts, appearance fees and time bonuses. Add the revolving door of anonymous champions who come and go with increasing regularity up front as we tout fast times rather than fast individuals, and the lack of stars and rivalries breaking out of running’s insular bubble further erodes public consumption beyond the quadrennial binging at the Olympic Games.
And so here we are with a sport mired in irrelevancy in the overall sporting landscape with only drug use and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt holding Q Scores of public recognition. But now, in the wake of a successful London Olympics, and on the verge of a World Championships in Moscow, the IAAF has embarked on a social media program to assist in raising athlete profiles via what they call the IAAF Athletes’ Hub.
The following letter was sent out yesterday to athlete managers throughout the world from the office of Nick Davies, IAAF Deputy General Secretary and Director of Communications:
Dear Athletes’ Representative,
On behalf of the IAAF, I am proud to present a new exclusive promotional initiative which will be launched very soon on the IAAF official website.
In its long term communications and promotions strategy, the IAAF is constantly looking at new ways to help promote the sport and its stars and it is with great pleasure that we are in the process of introducing the IAAF Athletes’ Hub.
The IAAF Athletes’ Hub will be accessible via the Fans section of the www.iaaf.org and all of the IAAF’s Social Media platforms. Our aim, with your help, is to open the IAAF Athletes’ Hub later this month.
The IAAF Athletes’ Hub will be the number one landing page where athletics fans from all over the world will be able to follow the latest updates from all of our sport’s stars. The IAAF Athletes’ Hub will automatically generate the latest of each athletes’ Facebook posts and tweets onto this centralised platform creating a unique source of information solely and entirely dedicated to the athletes.
In order to be successful and attain our goal of increasing even further athletes’ exposure in the ever growing world of Social Media we will need your athletes to subscribe to the IAAF Athletes’ Hub…
…We sincerely hope that you will embrace this new initiative and will help us make this a success. We truly believe that the IAAF Athletes’ Hub can soon become the number one reference for fans, media and sponsors around the world and will contribute to increase the profile of each of your athletes.
Nick Davies, IAAF Deputy General Secretary and Director of Communications
Here are a few manager responses:
- “I don’t know much about it yet, but it is encouraging that the IAAF are taking the initiative on social media ideas.”
– Ricky Simms, Pace Management (top client, Usain Bolt).
- “Of course everybody wants to attract traffic to sites and Facebook pages. All I know is that there might be some sponsors will claim Twitter and Facebook-accounts as well. So I am not sure the stars can just give it to IAAF without consequences.”
– Michel Boeting, One4One Sports Management (top clients include Wilson Kipsang and Emmanuel Mutai, London Marathon champions.)
- “Yes, of course it seems a good initiative. My impression is that MLB, PGA, NFL, do good jobs of giving their sports’ fans a centralized place to go follow athletes, and it is great to see that the IAAF is thinking in these terms, rather than the every-man-for-himself pattern of the past. This certainly can be of help to athletes, as it helps bring more focus to athletes and not just events… As you are likely to point out, it is also up to us as managers to get some of our more reticent athletes to participate, and to go a step further than just sending out messages about “today’s workout” or “I’m really excited about my next race.”
– Brendan Reilly, Boulder Wave (top clients include Constantina Dita, `08 Women’s Olympic Marathon champion, and Edna Kiplagat, 2011 World Marathon champion.
- “I would always go for it… For all clients. Getting out there is a must…Of course, it remains to be seen if the take-up on the IAAF initiative will be sufficient, and carry some credibility. Once time comes for branding athletes, for athletes to wear 2 or 4 logos, this could be as important as agents/athletes website and their participation in FB/TW communities.”
– Zane Branson, International Athletes Consultancy (top client, Patrick Makau, marathon world record holder).
The animus that decades of forced servility engendered in athletes and the assumption of the divine right of federations to rule as they saw fit has made for a furtive political landscape. As one cynical responder put it, “It always looks good when one unifies streams, but the IAAF doesn’t have much of a history of letting go. So we’ll see what happens if some movement by athlete groups decides to use this social media aggregation as the obvious platform to shout for change.”
The past is always prologue, but it needn’t be dispositive. Good will on both sides will be needed if the sport hopes to find the corrective for a decades-long decline that should motivate one and all to pull together rather than continue a debilitating internecine struggle. Creating stars and developing rivalries is one way to grow public interest. The IAAF Athletes’ Hub might well be one path taking us in that direction.