WHEN NECESSARY ISN’T NECESSARILY RIGHT

Sometimes something might not necessarily be right in one sense, and yet be necessary just the same in another. That seems to be the grounding principle being applied in Doha, Qatar at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

As the championships began yesterday, the extreme heat and humidity that defines that part of the world completely overwhelmed the women’s marathon to a degree that 41% of the field dropped out. The medals probably wouldn’t have changed much in another more traditional venue, as the very best runners did emerge. But contesting a marathon in ultra high heat and humidity in the middle of the night isn’t anyone’s idea of a proper test to determine the world’s best. But such are the trade offs in staging the games in a new part of the world.

We saw the same ‘not necessarily right, but necessary’ ethic being applied before the games as well when qualified athletes like two-time Olympic 1500 meter medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand were substituted out for unqualified athletes from countries without representation.

In both cases, staging and participation, something was given up on the high-end in order to spread the base at the low end. It’s not necessarily right in the sense that athletics is supposedly pure in its goal – citius, altius, fortius irrespective of skin color, religious affiliation or national origin. This is especially so at the pinnacle event in the sport.

Yet if that purity-alone metric had been applied consistently over time, women would never have been allowed to enter the arena in the first place because they would never have reached existing male-based standards.

So in order to grow the sport, trade offs in staging and participation become necessary though they aren’t necessarily right in their particular moment. Such are the hard determinations of leadership.

Or, in this case, did the IAAF (under now disgraced former prez Lamine Diack) just chase all that Qatari moolah and see all the athletes as just collateral damage? Because what really are the chances Qatar ever becomes anything other than a hotbed as opposed to a hotbed of track and field?  Empty seats tell their own tale. Continue reading

SUB 2-HOUR MARATHON?

OK, how can I not weigh-in on the sub-2 hour marathon experiment by Nike? First, as to the potential. Alright, yes, based on every metric available, it is possible, barely, though not probable. As much of life is a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy, it is only when we think something is possible that it enters into the realm of the doable. After the belief it is a matter of execution.

There is no doubt Nike has the resources to make such an attempt valid, and the marketing savvy to maximize the public interest. The big question for me is the unintended consequences of the attempt. Continue reading

LANCE IN DESCENT

Resigned

Massive brewer Anheuser-Busch joined massive shoe company Nike today in dropping sponsorship of cyclist and cancer fund-raising champion Lance Armstrong after USADA’s Pyrenees of evidence linking the seven-time Tour de France champion to serial performance enhancing drug use became public.  Though heavily suspected and accused for years, Armstrong’s fierce denials and fantastic cancer fund-raising had erected just enough of a firewall to maintain his corporate relationships.  Until now.

But corporate America has never been accused of spinal conformity when it comes to support for its pitchmen.  Like a fifteen year-old kid applying for his first job being told, “You have no experience”, often it takes one intrepid backer to get you off the schneid. In this case, one rejecter to open the flood gates of dismissal and discharge.

Of course, Armstrong has no one but himself to blame, though he remains defiantly jut-jawed.  Despite the avalanche of evidence against him, so powerful has his 70 million yellow Livestrong bracelet program been that he still has champions willing to cleave the sins of the cyclist from the redemption of his philanthropy.  And what, exactly, is the lesson to the young ones there?  Are ends and means really to be separated so easily?

Armstrong isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to take image-piercing rounds from a corporate/ media firing squad.  An entire baseball generation, most notably Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire, has been a casualty.

In months following Tiger Woods’ admission of serial infidelity in November 2009, several companies re-evaluated their relationships with the 14-time major golf champion.  Though the most bankable athlete in the world, Tiger lost everyone from Accenture to AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors. Blade maker Gillette suspended advertising featuring the once unsullied Woods. Tag Heuer dropped Tiger from their ad campaign in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, and ended their relationship for good when their deal expired in 2011. However, in contrast to their abandonment of Armstrong, Nike continued to support Tiger.

Lesser celebs have also been sent off on a metaphoric ice flow in the wake of a social disgrace.  On January 16, 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired from his 12-year CBS NFL football assignment after commenting to a local TV reporter at a Washington D.C. eatery that African Americans were superior athletes due to the breeding policies of slave owners before the Civil War.

Teaching moments are not the main concern of corporate titans.  As Morty Seinfield said, “Cheap fabric, and dim lighting, that’s how you move merchandise.” Continue reading

SAME AS IT EVER WAS

     As we approach this weekend’s USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, once again we find the advance stories focusing as much on the politics of the sport as on the competition itself.  The wedge issue currently roiling the sport – as it has since the USATF annual convention in St. Louis last December – is over the number of sponsorship logos athletes can display on their competition singlets, the size of those logos, and at which competitions those regulations will be fully enforced by USATF, the sport’s governing body.

According to stated USATF rules, which follow international IAAF regulations, an athlete can only display two commercial logos or one club logo and one commercial logo.  But as reported today on LetsRun.com, in a nod to athlete demands, USATF has agreed to allow athletes with a club logo to have two commercial logos on display, as well. For their part, athletes want the right to display one club and three commercial logos.

Regardless, while USATF and the athletes go back and forth over number, size, and where the uniform rules will be enforced, the USATF Board’s legal counsel Larry James wrote a memo to the Board stating his concern that any deviation from the stated rules might be seen by Nike – sponsor for the USATF Indoor and Outdoor National Championships  – as reducing the value of its own contract with USATF, and thereby, under the terms of that contract, would allow Nike to pay a lesser amount to USATF for its own visibility.  And since more athlete logos appearing on athletes’ singlets might thus be interpreted as a reduction in value by Nike, USATF is forced to implement its uniform restrictions, irrespective of the gentleman’s agreement they came to in St. Louis with athlete legal counsel David Greifinger to hold off on the implementation at domestic events.

You can read the whole account on LetsRun.com, but the bottom line according to David Greifinger (the former legal counsel to USATF, by the way) is, as currently worded Nike can argue anything reduces the value of its contract. “Taken to its logical extreme, Nike would have veto power over the composition of USATF’s Board and committees, USATF’s Bylaws, Regulations, and Competition Rules, and all matters pertaining to competitions and athletes’ rights.”

That a kerfuffle like this is still taking place 34 years after the institution of USATF as governing body for track & field, road racing, youth running, masters running, trail running, race walking is evidence enough of the limitations of the institution.  However, history, too, may be instructive for the current situation. Continue reading