CUTTING THE GORDIAN KNOT

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety

With the end of the Cold War reawakening centuries old ethnic animus, and modernity exerting economic pressure on limited resources, the reordering of the world continues along a rancorous course as globalization comes into opposition against national political interests.

Whether we see it expressed in separatist referenda in Catalonia, Venice and Scotland, or via the ongoing crisis in Crimea, nationalist movements are on the rise as peoples affiliated culturally and linguistically seek independence from the larger nations that contain them politically.

So, too, has reordering involved the realm of sport. The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 broke up the old Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) while providing national governing bodies for each Olympic sport individually.  In that restructuring, track and field, race walking and long distance running were lumped together under the same umbrella called The Athletics Congress (TAC), today known as USA Track & Field (USATF).

But just as nations undergo constant shifts in populations and affiliations, so has the relative scope of USATF’s component parts undergone fundamental change in the last three-plus decades.  Over that time road racing’s mature numbers have grown to dwarf those of track and race walking, such that road racing has become to track & field what black South Africa had traditionally been to white South Africa during the days of apartheid, a population majority holding a minority political base.

Days of yore

Days of yore

Part of this imbalance stems from the fact that road running was in its infancy when the AAU was broken up.  But today, over 30 million Americans are self-professed runners, 15.5 million of whom actively participate in road racing, more than a half-million in marathons alone. Yet, as of December 2013, USATF had a membership of 115,000, 67% of which came from its youth division.  What’s more, marathons in Boston, New York, and Columbus, Ohio, which once required USATF membership to gain entry,  have long since done away with that requirement, seeing no reciprocal benefit for the necessity. Thus, the questions which culminated in South Africa’s first free elections in 1993 that brought Nelson Mandela to the presidency have, over the years, found their way into the circles of road racing, to wit: should road racing remain under the umbrella of USATF in its minority position, or should it attempt to strike out on its own to form an autonomous union with members of its own ranks, and in so doing allow USATF the freedom to better serve its more historically aligned constituencies? Continue reading

THE PLAYERS MUST BE AT THE TABLE IF THEY ARE ALSO TO BE THE MEAL

     (The following editorial was written for and posted by the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) on its website. It is re-posted here with their permission.)

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“The test of allegiance to a cause or people is the willingness to run the risk of repeating on old argument just one more time, or going one more round against a hostile, or much worst, indifferent audience.”  – Christopher Hitchens, from his memoir Hitch-22.

Amidst the swirling eddies and currents of a race a champion must possess more than just strength, speed, and endurance. He/she must also be able to “read the whitewater” to discern the fugitive line to victory. Those who lack this critical capacity are pulled under in the sweep of the flow or find themselves shunted to a limpid side-pool wondering what became of the moment.

Today, on their own political course, the athletes of track and field find themselves looping around again full circle – or full oval, if you must – to a line they seem to discover once every generation, the one separating ‘what is’ from ‘what might be’.

Spurred by an arbitrary decision by the USATF’S national office which instituted a policy of enforcing IAAF advertising regulations restricting the size and number of commercial and club logos on athletes’ uniforms, athletes gathered at the 33rd USA Track & Field Annual Meeting in St. Louis to voice their displeasure and concerns. Once there, however, the meeting of the Athletes Advisory Committee quickly turned chaotic once live-streaming to the internet was discovered.  Soon tempers flared, sponsor walk-outs ensued, the room was cleared, then re-opened, but with the media now barred.

Ultimately, however, the athletes prevailed, in as much as they convinced the USATF board of directors to adopt their position in opposition to the logo policy in domestic meets. The athletes’ cause was led by the Athletes Advisory Committee chairman Jon Drummond and attorney David Greifinger, the former legal counsel to the USATF board, now serving as the athletes’ advocate.  it was Greifinger who submitted a resolution that USATF lift its logo restrictions for competitions that are not classified as “international” by the IAAF or conducted by the USOC.

The takeaway message from that meeting was simple, if the athletes cohere, their voice will carry. Today, the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) has taken up the megaphone on behalf of their current and nascent members, affirming that the operating model of their sport has not been designed with the athletes’ best interests in mind.

However, though bolstered by the logos-on-uniforms issue, TFAA is still a fledgling organization (founded in December 2009). Which beggars the question, what is the true nature of TFAA’s existence? Is it resolved to take some kind of intelligibly vertebrate stance, striving to become one among equals in the determination of its membership’s fate? Or is it only looking to work the margins, just another tender in a larger game beyond its capacity to engage much less control? Continue reading