We’ve all been dumped. And it hurts. But the immediate reflex is always to beg her/him to take us back. “Please, just tell me what to do. I’ll change. I swear.”
Yeah, well, we all know how well that works, rarely – OK, never! So you pick your self up, reset your dignity, and eventually move on, generally to greener pastures. Which is what distance running ought to do after getting dumped by the IAAF.
If ever there was a time for the sport of long-distance running to say adios to their governing body, now might be exactly the right time. After all, the IAAF just said adios to you by eliminating the 5000 and 10,000-meter races from the 2020 Diamond League, the IAAF’s premier track & field summer tour, which, in time, will only lead to their elimination at the Olympic Games, as the IOC continues to press for fewer track athletes to make room for breakdancers, skateboarders, pole-dancers, and kite-flyers.
There’s been a case to be made for this separation for years with the massive growth of road running across the globe. But the ties that bind long distance running to its parent organization were historic and seemingly of mutual advantage. But that connection no longer seems so apparent as the ties continue to come undone.
A group of American and international athletes attempted to form a professional road running organization in the early 1980s to move the sport away from the hypocrisy of amateurism and toward open professionalism. The athletes of that era held the upper hand in the development of road running. But they were seduced back into the IAAF family when prize money was allowed under a fig-leaf called TAC-TRUST that never quite turned into professional running.
Today, the connection between the back of the pack and the front of the pack, which was what developed and nurtured the first running boom of the 1970s and 80s, has been severed for at least the last 20 years.
With every event a universe of one; with the flood of unregulated athletes from East Africa allowed to rush in without any control or cooperation to help develop their non-athletic, but vitally necessary, professionalism to help market the sport; with the lack of a central commissioner’s office to develop rules and regulate a cogent racing calendar – just this year the PGA Tour moved its Players Championship from May to March so their tour season would climax earlier before the NFL arrived to suck all the media attention back to the gridiron – we have seen the activity of running for the masses become completely separated from top-end profession of racing.
It was 20 years ago today (March 14) that Running USA was founded. The organization put out a Facebook post celebrating that milestone, explaining its organizing principle as “From its inception, Running USA was created to improve the status of road racing in the United States through services and benefits to its members, creation, and growth of a global conference, marketing and education, and much more.”
No, it wasn’t! That’s not why RUSA was formed.
“The whole idea was every other sport became big by the quality of their star athletes,” recalls Basil Honikman who shepherded Running USA into existence. “The idea was to build our sport through the development of stars to increase the appeal and importance of the sport.”
After a decade of decline, “We needed to make stars again,” agreed Ed Froelich of the QC Times Bix 7 Road Race, one of the founding events of Running USA.
It was only over time that RUSA morphed into an industry tub-thumper with a tertiary goal of helping develop American talent.
We have witnessed a similar arc, from the elite to the everyday, by the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Begun as a means to shine a brighter spotlight on and raise awareness of marathoning excellence, now in Series XII, the focus is as much on Six-Star finishers as the top pros – though rampant performance drug positives have severely tainted the upper echelons of the sport.
But the World Marathon Majors could do something about that, too. By expanding their own tour to include more than just six international marathons a year, which can’t be formed into a true circuit due to the training and recovery requirements of the event, AWMM could sign athletes to an annual contract rather than an individual race contracts. By adding World Distance Majors to the World Marathon Majors, they could develop their own more stringent drug protocols, media responsibilities, sponsorship opportunities, TV contracts, team dynamics. It’s all there.
There is a famous Maya Angelou line, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Well, the IAAF Council just told the distance running community who they are for the second time. Last weekend in Doha, Qatar the IAAF scrubbed the 5000 and 10,000-meter races off the Diamond League schedule. The first telling came in 2011 when the IAAF gutted the World Cross Country Championships, turning the only annual World Championship running event into a biennial event.
Seems all the IAAF wants to do is reap profits off the marathons. And even there the IAAF’s parent IOC has diminished the event, no longer finishing the Men’s Olympic Marathon in the Olympic Stadium as the lead-in to the Olympic closing ceremonies.
Is the distance running community just going to sit back and keep taking it? There’s an opportunity here, as well as a need. Will anyone take advantage of it?
Stop asking to be taken back. The IAAF doesn’t want you. It’s time to move on.