IF YOU ASKED A WIDE VARIETY of fans what’s wrong with the IAAF, I’m pretty sure that “they need to change their name” would not be very high on anybody’s list. Nonetheless, the international governing body indeed has a new name. And a new logo to boot. So welcome to “World Athletics,” which will be represented as WA. It will be interesting to see whether common parlance will turn that into an initialism (double-u-eh) or an acronym (“wah”).
I’m a big fan of good acronyms, as I explained in my column of February ’93 in discussing the change of the U.S. governing body’s name from The Athletics Congress to USA Track & Field:
Would you believe that I like our national governing body’s old name better? Dumb as it was, “The Athletics Congress” translated into “TAC,” the very model of a perfect acronym. Let’s face it, in everyday usage there isn’t a body around that you don’t refer to by its acronym [or initialism]. The best ones are all of the 3-letter variety (pro sports, TV networks, shady government agencies) and there are good ones with 4 (NCAA, USOC). Our new one—and what it is hasn’t been decided yet—is going to be stuck with at least 5 letters and lacks a good sound, as “USA Track & Field” converts poorly. We’ve been using USATF in our pages, for ease’s sake. I mean, how do you pronounce an ampersand? An easier way may be to shorten the country to “U.S.” and change the ampersand to “and,” so you get a pronounceable “USTAF” (yoo-staff). But all in all, give me back my TAC.
But is WA destined to be a great acronym? I think not. Great acronyms have at least 3 letters and a nice hard consonantal component in there somewhere. WA fails on both counts. On the other hand, IAAF (which nobody ever tried to pronounce as “yaff”) is a clumsy initialism and I can see why Monaco’s hired guns wanted it changed. I just wish they had been able to come up with something that flows off the tongue and sticks in the mind a little bit better. As for the new logo I can see the desire for a more “modern” look. I just wish my mind translated all the elements the way the IAAF described them in their release. But I guess I’m not artsy-fartsy enough, because about all I see when I look at it is a Japanese fan.
If commentary on our Message Board was any kind of accurate gauge of general reaction, the change isn’t going over well. A sampling follows.
Juicy News: “I don’t understand how changing the name and logo will attract youngsters to participate in/watch track & field.”
El Toro: “Rebranding is what sad, useless #$%# do to show their ‘innovative dynamism’ when they have nothing even slightly useful to contribute. For those with a brain, this strongly flags the rapidly approaching death knell of the sport.”
Trickstat: “As an organisation, it makes sense for the IAAF to give itself a snappier, more straightforward name. For the sport overall, it makes very little difference.”
player: “Problem is WA is not in the logo and there is no suggestion it will be a self-identifier. Sure, it will be shortened to WA on the message board but that’s not going to be helpful in all contexts.”
lonewolf: “Maybe they hope it will be confused with World Cup soccer.”
Atticus: “I’m sorry, that abbr. is already spoken for, as in the state of Washington!! I agree with the poster above, but add an H at the end – the World Athletics Hegemony, so it’s just… WAH!”
tandfman: “And Down Under, everyone knows that WA is Western Australia.
Flumpy: “This is legit tragic.”
Halfmiler2: “The amusing thing is that USATF used to be The Athletics Congress (TAC/USA) from 1980 until it gave up and changed its name at the end of 1992. They used to get calls at the National Office in Indy asking about basketball schedules and the like. The TAC/USA name was used for two reasons: because the rest of the world uses Athletics as the name of our sport, and to avoid some of the old AAU controversies between the Track & Field and LDR Committees. But in the USA, it just didn’t work, I recall that journalists who knew what TAC was would sometimes mistakenly say it was the ‘Track Athletics Congress.’”
Merner521: “From a USA point of view, WTF would have been the obvious choice.”
bambam1729: “That actually was the acronym for the IF of taekwondo—the World Taekwondo Federation. They changed it last year after they found out what WTF stood for in many minds. They shortened it to simply World Taekwondo.”
18.99s: “Stupid move. NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, PGA, WTA, FIFA, WBA, UFC… every successful pro sports organization has a 3-letter or longer abbreviation. Two letters or full words just won’t work.”
DJG: “Don’t mind the name change, but the logo is not making it for me. Looks like the ATT logo that was hacked with a knife to form a W. And if anyone can picture the A, you could easily find work interpreting abstract Art. How many millions of dollars On advertising will it take to make this change a winner? More than it was worth. Sorry, Coe, this is another Brexit folly!”
Alan Shank: “Who gives a $^#$%? I don’t care what they call it or how they ‘brand’ it, but I wish they would leave the events themselves alone.”
Vault-emort: “The new logo does look a bit like someone in a pair of lycra shorts bending over. The worst thing about a new logo and name means they will probably redo the website in a few months and make it even less functional.”
Hardly a rave set of reviews. The reason there is no positive commentary in there is because there wasn’t any. The closest anybody came was the already-quoted player, who said, “Acronyms are snappy. Every major sports organization I can think of offhand is known by its acronym. And acronyms lend themselves to efficient computer searches for pertinent information. WAF I wouldn’t have had a problem with.”
WAF (World Athletics Federation) was the first thing that came to my mind too. I’d hate to think that the reason we ended up with such a truncated name is because it was chosen to fit the artwork, rather than the other way round. Managing editor Sieg Lindstrom has suggested that TFA (Track & Field Athletics) might work, and that addresses an important point: the fact that “athletics” means nothing to American audiences and never has. That was a problem with IAAF from the get-go. It might sound parochial to suggest that the federation’s name should try to accomodate basically just a single nation, but when that nation provides the biggest share the professional athletes and that nation’s TV revenue is indispensable… just sayin’.
Of course, years from now we’ll probably look back and laugh at what a tempest in a steeplechase pit this whole subject was, and agree what a perfectly good choice the change was. Hmmm… better make that “many” years from now, given people’s lag time on things like this. When TAC (which was adopted in November of ’79) was changed to USATF in December of ’92, there were still people calling the organization by its original name of AAU. Indeed, there are those of an age who probably still do. I do know that it was several years after the TAC/USATF switch that I quit using the former, just because the acronym was so much easier.
For now, all I can say is, “Whaaaaa?!” □