ATHLETEBIZ HOPING TO START ATHLETE BUZZ

     It was a long slow erosion that saw athletics (track & field) and road running slide from their once-vaulted standings in American sport to their current niche rankings. For those of a certain age the descent has been particularly wistful as they recall the days when runners, jumpers, and throwers were household names that filled arenas and whose exploits were celebrated in national sporting publications.

Eamon Coghlan makes SI cover off Jack-in-the-Box record in San Diego 1979

Eamonn Coghlan makes SI cover off Jack-in-the-Box record in San Diego 1979

“After the Ben Johnson drug thing (Seoul 1988) USATF didn’t know how to convince the public that most athletes weren’t on drugs,” said Don Franken who, with his father Al, put on a series of major track meets on the west coast for over 40 years.  “We had 21,000 in Edwards Stadium in (Berkeley, Ca.) 1984, and averaged 12,000 — 13,000 at Sunkist, Jack-in-the-Box, Pepsi and Kinney (meets). But after Seoul we went from four meets to three to two, then ended altogether in the early 200s.  That was it.  And sponsors still think we are an amateur sport.”

Despite Franken’s assessment, there are any number of people and organizations that haven’t accepted as final the current situation, and who are taking steps to turn the trend around with an emphasis on professionalizing the sport.

New elite track clubs (see 2014 BEGINS FAST AND FURIOUS), the Paul Doyle created American Track League and Collegiate Running Association are several such harbingers of change. At the same time USATF, the national governing body for all things track and running, has also become a more productive steward.  But there are others for whom the frustrations of the past have been distilled into fuel used to light the way ahead. 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

GRASSROOTS FUNDING CONTINUES ON TRACK

     Minimal, broad-based funding has long been a useful mechanism to advance the cause of sports in the USA. In the late 1970s and early `80s runners had to join The Athletics Congress (precursor to today’s USA Track & Field) in order to run the Boston, New York City and Columbus Marathons.  Today, a similar mechanism is utilized by USA Triathlon where every competitor must purchase at least a one-day license ($10) in order to participate in sanctioned events.  Running USA, itself, was stood up in 1999 in part with funds provided by then New York City Marathon director Alan Steinfeld who pledged a $1 per U.S. entry to the fledgling organization.  That funding gave rise to Team USA California in Mammoth Lakes which developed Deena Kastor’s bronze and  MebKeflezighi’s silver medals at the Athens Olympic Marathons in 2004.

While the mandatory TAC membership model fell away in the 1980s as more and more fitness runners came into running, and the governing body proved unwilling or incapable of providing services for fees, and RUSA withdrew its support for Mammoth Lakes at the end of 2009 as the trade organization turned it focus inward toward servicing industry members rather than outward toward the sport, the minimal $1 per entry practice was resurrected this March by race director Steve Nearman of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon scheduled for October 2nd in Alexandria, Virginia WOODROW WILSON BRIDGE HALF MAKES MAJOR AMERICAN PLEDGE.

Nearman’s funds will be used to support America’s distance running training camps. Several other events have since joined the Dollar For Distance Development pledge, and USA Track & Field Foundation continues with its own program “to attract and guide funds to new and innovative track and field programs, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for youth athletes, emerging elite athletes, distance training centers and anti-doping education.” USATFF generates its funding from donations from its Board of Directors and from generous fans of track and field.

Yesterday, Team USA Arizona coach Greg McMillan revealed that he has received a contribution from Tagg Running of Tucson from its July 4th Freedom Run. Continue reading