When applied to American politics the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how gerrymandering congressional districts has led to gridlock rather than problem-solving – ostensibly the purpose of Congress – because gerrymandering incentivizes congress people NOT to work with the opposition party. When applied to today’s running world, the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how the focus on the individual-event management, while improving the quality of events, has constricted the potential growth and development of The Sport, which would necessitate a unity of purpose across multiple event platforms.
Today, a decade and a half into the 21st century, The Sport of racing has been subsumed by The Activity of jogging. The tail, we might say, is wagging the dog. And regardless of what Lord Sebastian Coe, the embattled IAAF president told viewers on the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon telecast recently — “when people see elite performances you can see how it pulls them into competition. It’s almost a perfect storm” — the opposite, in fact, is true.
There has been a total break between the front of the pack and the back of the pack. There is an almost complete lack of interest in the sport of foot racing by the experiential runners, much less by the general sports fans. And now with the devastating accounts of drug abuse and institutional corruption haunting the IAAF, the sport is in even more desperate condition than ever.
“Fast times once meant something,” says Patrick Lynch former elite athlete coordinator for the Boston Marathon and long-time observer of the sport. “There used to be a slew of running writers who could contextualize those times, people like Bert Rosenthal of Associated Press, Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe, Neil Amdur of the New York Times, Dick Patrick at USA Today. They’re all gone now. There are no running beat writers left anymore in the mainstream press.
“Just as the three-point line came in to play through the American Basketball Association to differentiate it from the established NBA – along with the red, white, and blue ball – when the NBA absorbed the ABA, NBA executives saw that their same old brand of basketball needed to adapt to grow. In the same sense running has become stagnant, well past due for a change. Events are successful but their races are not.”
Though he built the elite fields at the Boston Marathon from 1986 to 2012, and before that was very active in the Boston running community, Pat Lynch has always cultivated an opaque public persona (you can’t even find a picture of him on Google!). That he is willing to speak openly now only underscores the seriousness of the case he makes. Continue reading