Today, in Orlando, Florida Coach Vin Lananna was elected president of USATF, the governing body of athletics in the USA, when the other candidate for the office, three-time Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis, Illinois, withdrew her candidacy. Both were among the finest candidates for the office the organization has ever had. Both had risen to the top in their respective fields, she in athletics, he in coaching. Both are honorable people, and both have a deep and abiding love for the sport. Yet, even as the USATF family met in Orlando for its annual meeting to vote on a new leader, the question should at least be asked, is this election simply a myopic whistling past the graveyard given all the deeply cynical drug and corruption charges coming out of so many other brother and sister federations in sport worldwide?
The question of existential relevance is hardly inappropriate. Today, former Chicago Tribune writer Phil Hersh suggested a similar notion: Rot at the Core Threatens Future of Olympics. And with the release of yet another damning investigative film by Germany’s ARD TV in conjunction with French newspaper Le Monde, Doping – Top Secret: The Protection Racket that uncovered corruption at the very highest levels of governance of the sport, it seems that for many in positions of authority the corridors of power are only greased avenues for bribery and extortion schemes. How can simply replacing the head person at USATF or even in IAAF home office really matter anymore?
There are 200+ federations that make up the IAAF. These are political fiefdoms that are run by fiat, and exist with all but no oversight, nationally or internationally. If Washington, Jefferson, or Adams were around and involved in this sport, one might assume a Declaration of some sort might well be in preparation. And it isn’t even that people believe in the system. Instead they have absorbed it and learned to use it to their best interests. I have no doubt that Jackie and Vin have the best interest of the sport as their animating mission. But that makes them the outlier in this international cabal, if inquiry and evidence be any judge.
There used to be proportional representation within IAAF, with larger wealthier nations having more votes and subsequently a greater control. Then they went to one country-one vote, much like the U.S. electoral college reduces the power of the large states like California and New York, and boosts the say of smaller states. And so in its latest election the U.S. saw a divided vote, with one candidate winning the raw popular vote, while the other took the presidency via the electoral college tally. In the IAAF, too, the smaller states hold sway.
I’ve seen the system operate first hand. Power is what power takes. And if you cede someone the imprimatur of government sanction, then the holder will levee and spend as he or she sees fit, and let the citizens beware.
“Welcome to (fill in country name here). It is a new day. We are happy to accommodate your request. Who you want to film? Where do you want to film? What is your budget? We will require a percentage of that budget to approve your permit.”
But it’s just money in their pocket. It is not looked upon as either wrong or right, just the way of the world, one fiefdom after another with no one overseeing much less regulating the process with a fiduciary responsibiltiy. Perfect example. One of my first jobs when I moved to Boston decades ago was working for the city’s Elderly Affairs Division on a project called the Mobile Market. The city took a 30-foot long Book Mobile and converted into a rolling shopping market that we drove to the low-cost elderly housing projects throughout the city so the seniors could shop without getting mugged while walking to their local supermarkets. See, even the thieves knew when the government checks were coming.
I was the assistant manager of the Mobile Market project, and because we had cash on board we had an armed guard with us, a retired Boston police officer. Mac was a great guy, World War II vet, 20 years on the force. He taught me a lot. When I asked why he had retired, he said, “I got shot one night coming up on a robbery, and afterwards they took me off the streets and put me behind a desk. Toni, you can’t make any money behind a desk.”
How do you fix human nature? By making the penalty more onerous than the potential rewards are luring. Why do you think God instituted that little thing called Hell? Right now the scales in this sport have settled at an equilibrium that favors theft, corruption, and cynicism. Electing an honest broker as head of USATF though salutary, for sure, will have little effect in moving those scales toward a true honest balance, sadly.
Congratulations nonetheless, Coach Lananna. Please prove the premise of this article wrong. I would dearly love to write a retraction.