Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (sub-head: “The Vault Opens”) smashed all box office records this past weekend. Hopefully, that news might open the eyes of the leaders of the sport of athletics as they enter 2016 fresh on the heels of their worst year in recent memory – which is saying something.
“The studios finally seem to be remembering, after years of over-reliance on visual effects, that moviegoers like a story,” Jeanine Basinger, a film studies professor at Wesleyan University told the New York Times for a piece that ran this past Sunday. “It can be a story we are familiar with. It can be a serialized story. But give us, please, we’re begging you, a story of some kind.”
Get it, IAAF? Stories are what move and engage people, not simply performances, which are track & field’s versions of special effects. Performances are great, but they should come in the service of a larger narrative. That means good guys and bad guys, high stakes and cliff-hangers, not an endless series of athletic exhibitions by athletes running around in shoe company gear that never add up to anything.
Fortunately, coming attractions for 2016 include the Olympic Games and the Trials the U.S. contenders must go through to qualify. But those stories only come around once every four years. In between it’s all American Ninja Warriors and The Biggest Loser. Why? Because they tell stories.
This past week we witnessed another example of how athletics (track & field) conducts business as usual with news that Asics signed high school sprint phenom Candace Hill to a comprehensive 10-year deal. To which we all say, “good for you, Candace. Well deserved.”
But rather than coming in addition to, or as a consequence of being taken in some league-wide draft, or being signed to a long-standing team, which is how other sports’ athletes sign shoe deals, Ms. Hill’s Asics signing is her primary professional contract.
Now, just like every other athlete bound to this archaic design, Ms. Hill will exclusively represent nothing beyond a lifeless shoe company for a decade, not even getting the chance to brand herself to a collegiate team, thereby restricting any association that actually might link people to an athlete or her performance while affording them an ongoing narrative to follow.
In IAAF-related news, today we read that FIFA president Sepp Blatter and European soccer head Michel Platini have been suspended for eight years from all football-related activities by the FIFA Ethics Committee. The decision came after an investigation into a $2 million payoff to Platini by FIFA in 2011, a payoff that Blatter claims was based on an oral agreement nine years prior. The two were also fined $50,000 and $80,000 respectively.
This is the penalty for corrupting an entire sport!?
Sepp Blatter is 79 years old and worth untold millions after years at the FIFA trough. And he gets a suspension and $50,000 fine while still being allowed to attend games if he buys tickets? That’s like lowering him into a warm bath at a French spa, but removing the rubber ducky and soap bubbles.
If that’s how seriously these international governing bodies are going to punish such charges, the leeches at the IAAF can start breathing a lot easier.