Category: Commentary

LEST WE FORGET

Yesterday marked a somber anniversary. 25 years ago on 7 April 1994, the nation of Rwanda exploded in a paroxysm of genocide in which 800,000 Tutsi people were slaughtered by the majority Hutu population in a matter of 100 days.

Today, 25 years later, Rwanda has a new light, says its leader, President Paul Kagame.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, center, gestures as he and first lady Jeannette Kagame, center-left, lead a “Walk to Remember” accompanied by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, far left, Prime Minister of Belgium Charles Michel, second left, France’s Herve Berville, third left, and Governor General of Canada Julie Payette, fourth left, from the parliament building to Amahoro stadium in downtown Kigali, Rwanda Sunday, April 7, 2019. Rwanda commemorated the 25th anniversary of the worst genocide in recent world history. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

There is a powerful message here that should chasten people in every land, for a hard-line strain of populist nationalism is growing once again in many parts of the globe. It is not an inconsequential trend.

Whether it’s the Brexit battle in Great Britain – in or out of the European Union? – what’s called “authoritarian capitalism” in China, or the expanding populist nationalism of Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and, yes, Donald Trump in the USA, everywhere we look we see nations pulling back from a democratic globalist agenda as long-held systems come under strain from the twin poles of advancing technology and retreating opportunity.  

Yet there is another trend which plays against that troubling movement, the trend in movement itself.  (more…)

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LEADING FROM BEHIND?

During his second term in office, President Barack Obama was vilified for his policy of “leading from behind” in Libya. Whether such a strategy is viable in the realm of geopolitics is open to argument. But can leading from behind be a winning strategy in running?

I thought about that while watching yesterday‘s IAAF World Cross Country Championships from Denmark. One of the questions asked when the very difficult race course was unveiled was whether or not somebody laying off the pace could come from behind and still win. We don’t see much of that on the track or, as it turned out, yesterday at World Cross in Aarhus. In shorter distances races, contact is everything. But the marathon is another matter because you can let someone go early with the goal of reeling him/her back in later.  But it’s more than that. (more…)

CAN RUNNING PULL ITSELF BACK FROM THE BRINK?

With a Warrior Games like course that has jaws dropped throughout the Twitter-sphere, there’s a real excitement for Saturday’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. The hunger has been even further driven by biennial scheduling of what once the most competitive annual footrace in the world.  So, yes, Aarhus is a true God-send for a sport still reeling from recent disheartening news.

The amputation of long-distance races from the 2020 IAAF Diamond League tour – along with the reduced quotas for all athletics’ events in the 2020 Tokyo Games as the IOC announced the inclusion of surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, and breakdancing for Paris 2024 – is a sobering recognition that 1) the sporting world is more competitive than ever as it expands and diversifies, and 2) that the arrested development and long-time corruption endemic to the sport of athletics – as well as its inability (or unwillingness) to grow out of its Balkanized amateur past into a fully functioning professional future – has now come up against Recognition No 1. 

It also illustrates that the emotional tether that once linked the best long distance runners to the great herd of joggers who run behind them every week across the globe – much less to a robust fan base – has unraveled. 

Yet in one sense, the IAAF’s reduction of distance running is nothing more than a reflection of what distance running has done to itself. (more…)

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

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. (more…)

IT’S A MATTER OF HEALTH

Jamaican runner Kemoy Campbell

Though his future in competitive racing remains cloudy, it was heartening to hear that Jamaica’s Kemoy Campbell had been released from the hospital in New York City last week and is making progress in his recovery from a heart-stopping collapse at the Millrose Games while serving as a pacer in the 3000 meters on February 9.

But Mr. Campbell’s health scare brought to light an issue confronting many athletes in a sport that finds itself facing a number of challenges, from fairness in women’s competitions (hyperandrogenism) to Olympic and World Championships qualifying to healthcare.

In that last realm, it is because athletes like Mr. Campbell are signed to shoe company contracts as “consultants” and to races as “independent contractors” – rather than drafted as “team members” or hired as “employees” – that such individuals need not be provided with benefits including healthcare insurance. And in a sport that constantly stresses both internal and external body systems, that you’re-on-your-own policy is like doing trapeze work without a net.

Thus is Mr. Campbell left to pay his substantial medical bills via the kindness of his shoe company sponsor, Reebok, which pledged $50,000 to Kemoy’s cause, and by GoFundMe.com contributions.  But that is not a system.

On the other hand, as we read in Outside Magazine, American athletes are provided with Participant Accident (PA) coverage by USATF for exactly the kind of medical emergency faced by Mr. Campbell. Overseas, the IAAF Diamond League also provides participating athletes with accident coverage, though that policy does not apply across the board to all IAAF-sanctioned events.  This patchwork system reflects the direction that American healthcare itself has been headed for decades. (more…)

WOMEN RACING WOMEN. NOT SO FAST

It all used to be so simple.  Then again, it all used to be pretty screwed up, too.  But in today’s charged political climate, where folks can be as sensitive as a hemorrhoidal pole-sitter, the politics of gender and self-identification remain fraught with — what did I just read today, that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will raise their baby as “gender-fluid”? Gender-fluid?  Let’s see how that affects the Olympic schedule in 2044.

And so after a weeks worth of testimony at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, the case against the IAAF for requiring reduced testosterone levels in so-called hyperandrogenic athletes – or women runners with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) – now awaits a decision by a three-person panel on or before March 26th. 

Caster Semenya in Doha 2016
(Andrew McClanahan/PhotoRun)

The case against the proposed IAAF ruling, brought by double Olympic 800-meter champion Caster Semenya of South Africa, is not as simple as restricting performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, in what seems a massive irony, the IAAF is looking to sanction performancerestricting drug use to reduce the testosterone levels of certain female athletes, which begs the question, why not do the same for performance-enhancing drug use, if the point is to guarantee a level playing field? And how level is level? And how fluid is fluid? And have we stepped upon that old slippery slope?

Let’s begin here. The whole purpose of a competition is to discover through the intricate calculus of talent, training, and tactics how one athlete gets to the finish line ahead of all others. It is the ineffable nature of that calculus that makes the sport intriguing. Take away the unknowable, replace it with certainty, and you’ve essentially eliminated the game.

Why don’t women just compete against men?  Because we would know the result before the start.

I went grocery shopping with the wife yesterday and she was lamenting how heavy the bags were as she handed them to me from the cart to put in the trunk.

“You’re older than I am and I work out with weights in the gym,” she said  “But you only have to use one hand to lift the bags while I have to use two. It’s not fair.”

There it is. I have testosterone coursing through my system at a level she doesn’t, and testosterone is the separating agent that distinguishes a man’s strength and power advantage over a woman’s – after boys and girls compete on an equal basis before the onset of puberty. The IAAF suggests the way to make things right in the middle distance races from 400m to 1500m is to reduce that hormonal advantage certain women have over others. Semenya and her advocates suggest otherwise. (more…)

HAS THERE EVER BEEN ANOTHER G.O.A.T. LIKE TOM BRADY?

Tom Brady American football GOAT

Super Bowl LIII is this weekend in Atlanta and we’re having a party as we do whenever the New England Patriots enter the fray. Of course, the dominant stories this year are whether Pat’s coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady can add a sixth Lombardi Trophy to their display case in Foxborough, or will 32-year-old wunderkind coach Sean McVay and defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, find a way to upset the reigning NFL dynasty and maybe begin a new one of their own.

But another question I have is, who in sports history is analogous to Tom Brady, someone everyone whiffed on – 6th round draft pick, the 199th player chosen – who went on to become the GOAT? Let’s take a look at some other GOAT candidates in other sports and compare. (more…)