September 2003

GOT AN E-MAIL THE OTHER DAY. Guy wanted to know why my columns dwelt so much—his words—on the negative. Wondered if I ever had anything positive to say. For those of you who agree with him and think me some kind of congenital sourpuss who gets his jollies through a bleak outlook on life, I hasten to assure you that that’s not the case. So why do the bulk of my musings in this space end up as rants about one thing or another?

For you, dear reader, only for you! Allow me to explain:

There was a time when the unwritten internal motto of T&FN was, “It’s all for the athletes.” We went out of our way to be the voice of the competitors, at all levels. If athletes were getting a raw deal, T&FN was there to blister the hides of those handing out the deals. And we still do, but the advent of the sport’s professional era has eliminated much of the abuse. Athletes are now free to market their skills when and where they want and receive adequate recompense to boot.

Athletes also have a significant amount of say in the governance of the sport, particularly at the USATF level, where no significant operational plan gets into play without the Athletes Advisory Committee’s signing off on it. Internationally, the IAAF has an Athletes Commission, and while it hasn’t nearly the power of the U.S. group (yet?), the athletes are heard.

So are their agents/managers, who are now treated with great respect by both the IAAF and the major-meet directors. Officials—long a put-upon and ignored part of the scene—are also sensing some of the power they have. In Southern California they now even get paid. What a concept! Some compensation for long days standing in the hot sun getting yelled at by prima donna athletes. Even the ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate have lobbying organizations which attempt to keep media working standards to acceptable minima.

Let’s see: athletes, managers, officials, the press. Did I leave anybody important out of the track & field spectrum? Ah yes, the fans. You guys. If T&FN doesn’t speak out for the track fans of the world, who will?

What has anybody done for you lately? Do you have any recourse if a meet fails to give you the appropriate amount of bang for your buck? There’s only one effective thing you can do and that’s to vote with your butt. Don’t put it in the seats. Unfortunately, U.S. fans have been voting that way for decades now. Do you think perhaps the time is overdue to stop the bleeding? That’s what we try to do here at T&FN: give the fan a voice without terminating—with extreme prejudice—their relationship with a sport they once loved. And perhaps more importantly, we’re trying to do something for the people who aren’t fans but should be.

That’s certainly not to say that the various governing bodies and assorted meet promoters—both domestic and international—aren’t aware of the problem and aren’t trying to solve it. But sometimes the solutions aren’t much better than the original situation. You know the old joke, “The operation was a complete success, although the patient did die.” Things like improving pole vault presentation by toying with the equipment. Huh? Or deciding that blaring music really draws in the fans: from what I’ve seen, for every new fan of the sport that bit of “progress” has created, it has driven away two longtimers.

I’m ranting again, aren’t I? The way I look at it, we’re just continuing in the fine tradition started by our founders, Bert & Cordner Nelson, of helping to keep the sport a viable one. A push here, a nudge there, a pat on the back somewhere else.

But if it takes ranting to get peoples’ attention, I guess I’m your man.