I received numerous responses to my last blog post — — 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.
Tennis 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.