THEORY OF PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN RUNNING

When applied to American politics the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how gerrymandering congressional districts has led to gridlock rather than problem-solving – ostensibly the purpose of Congress – because gerrymandering incentivizes congress people NOT to work with the opposition party.  When applied to today’s running world, the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how the focus on the individual-event management, while improving the quality of events, has constricted the potential growth and development of The Sport, which would necessitate a unity of purpose across multiple event platforms.

What can you do?

Perfect Storm?

Today, a decade and a half into the 21st century, The Sport of racing has been subsumed by The Activity of jogging.  The tail, we might say, is wagging the dog.  And regardless of what Lord Sebastian Coe, the embattled IAAF president told viewers on the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon telecast recently — “when people see elite performances you can see how it pulls them into competition. It’s almost a perfect storm” — the opposite, in fact, is true.

There has been a total break between the front of the pack and the back of the pack. There is an almost complete lack of interest in the sport of foot racing by the experiential runners, much less by the general sports fans. And now with the devastating accounts of drug abuse and institutional corruption haunting the IAAF, the sport is in even more desperate condition than ever.

“Fast times once meant something,” says Patrick Lynch former elite athlete coordinator for the Boston Marathon and long-time observer of the sport. “There used to be a slew of running writers who could contextualize those times, people like Bert Rosenthal of Associated Press, Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe, Neil Amdur of the New York Times, Dick Patrick at USA Today. They’re all gone now. There are no running beat writers left anymore in the mainstream press.

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2012 Honolulu Marathon with Mark Wetmore (Mr. Green), Pat Lynch (Mr. Blue) across from Hono race director Jon Cross and Moi (Messrs. White).

“Just as the three-point line came in to play through the American Basketball Association to differentiate it from the established NBA – along with the red, white, and blue ball – when the NBA absorbed the ABA, NBA executives saw that their same old brand of basketball needed to adapt to grow.  In the same sense running has become stagnant, well past due for a change. Events are successful but their races are not.”

Though he built the elite fields at the Boston Marathon from 1986 to 2012,  and before that was very active in the Boston running community, Pat Lynch has always cultivated an opaque public persona (you can’t even find a picture of him on Google!).  That he is willing to speak openly now only underscores the seriousness of the case he makes. Continue reading

PEACE FOR OUR TIME REDUX

"Peace for our time." - Neville Chamberlain

“Peace for our time.” – Neville Chamberlain

We heard it in September 1938 when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich announcing “Peace for our time” after meeting with Chancellor Hitler regarding Germany’s takeover of the Czech Sudetenland.

Considering Hitler invaded Poland a year later to kick off World War II, Chamberlain’s pronouncement stands as gold medal winner in the “Ooops” competition in World Political Assessments Olympics. But it sounds like we just heard something vaguely similar coming out of Munich again today in regards the ongoing IAAF Corruption Scandal

After a scathing indictment of the IAAF came out last November in his original WADA-commissioned report outlining institutional corruption, extortion and widespread drug abuse in the Russian athletics’ federation, founding WADA president Dick Pound announced that today’s follow up report would go even farther and include a “wow factor” revelation.

As you can imagine, alarm clocks were set and seats were arranged around computers worldwide to hear the latest nefariousness and watch for any potential perp walks. After all the wickedness these princes of power had put the sport through for so long, here was the coup de grace about to come down.

So what the hell happened? Where, exactly, was the “wow factor”? The only wow I heard was my own exclamation after Mr. Pound made a screeching 180-degree turn on his own Independent Commission’s report. Continue reading