SCRUBBING THE SPORT CLEAN

Nations have been turning citizens into soldiers for as long as anyone can remember.  And over time, no matter the nation, the process hasn’t changed a great deal, as it has proven tried and true.

First, the military breaks down the individual recruits – cutting off their hair, dressing them alike, housing them together in close quarters – in order to build a cohesive unit.  Then they teach precision through constant drilling until a finely tuned military force has been forged.

One of the first lessons in unit cohesion is everyone is responsible for everyone else. And if one makes a mistake, all pay the price. For instance, if one recruit decides he doesn’t want to take a shower every day in boot camp, it eventually falls to the other recruits to drag him to the showers for a late night cold water scrubbing with a hard bristled brush. It is not the drill sergeant who does this, it is the rank recruit’s own fellow privates.  That cold-water scrubbing tends to get the message across. If one recruit screws up in training, the entire platoon does extra pushups or low crawl. Eventually, life for the screw-up is made intolerable by his fellow recruits until he gets his act in order.

Bringing this analogy into the world of athletics, until the athletes themselves take some responsibility to deal with their own in this matter of doping,  the situation will never be resolved.  Every athlete only wants to train and race, total focus.  And that is fully understandable.  But that only works if the sport is in good health, and this one is not. Continue reading

TENNIS MODEL

ATP_World_Tour LogoI received numerous responses to my last blog post — UNTYING THE USATF GORDIAN KNOT — about the current state of the sport, its governance, and the future of the fledgling athletes’ union, the Track and Field Athletes Association (TFAA).  One of the over-arching themes that emerged was the need for athletes to speak with one voice because so much of what they want for their future is still tied into the issue of governance.  After all, goes the argument, it is the elected officials of the national governing body (NGB) that make and enforce the rules of competition, head up relevant sport committees, and appoint officials to make the on-site rulings.  Individually, athletes simply don’t have the standing to help decide such issues, while collectively they would.

While that argument is absolutely true, it is only true as pertains USATF-sanctioned  events and championships.  Just as in tennis, golf, basketball, you name it, the job of  developing a sport, of contesting its national championships, and then selecting its Olympic or World Championship teams, is not one and the same as staging and presenting a professional version of that sport for its own sake.

ITF LogoTennis is governed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and its 210-member national tennis associations.  They sanction the four Grand Slam events, and operate three major international team competitions,  notably the Davis Cup.  But it is the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tours that control most other high-level professional tournaments.  This is the organizational hierarchy athletics and road racing don’t have, but are in need of.

In the public eye, as we’ve seen, there is no clear line between amateur and pro track and road running.  People still wonder how you can take prize money and still compete in the Olympic Games. And the quote from George Perry of the Austin TC that attendees of the IEG Sponsorship Conference had “no idea there was such a thing as pro track in the US”, stands as an indictment to us all.

My point is that until we have a fully professional model that is  readily distinguishable from the developmental aspect of track & field, we will continue to be unable to effectively explicate the sport to the public, or market it to its full advantage. But to create that distinction, we must, necessarily, move away from the single organizing umbrella model, while retaining and supporting the important and necessary functions required of the national governing bodies.

***** Continue reading