From The Editor — December 2011: Public Frustration With The IAAF

IT’S NOT EASY BEING THE IAAF. Headlines regarding the international governing body haven’t been kind of late, and while the forces of Occupy Monaco haven’t quite yet been mobilized, I can certainly understand some of the frustration that much of the general public is feeling with the sport’s international governing body.

This year’s torch was ignited with the headline-generating false-start DQ of Usain Bolt in Daegu.

“Bolt’s DQ at Worlds illustrates stupidity of new false-start rule,” trumpeted Sports Illustrated.

The Chicago Tribune said, “Bolt and track losers in the sport’s Gong Show.”

The Associated Press chimed in with, “Bolt is human; his sport’s rules are not.”

Guess what? From where I sit the respected writers of the esteemed organizations who penned those words are quite simply wrong. Yes, l’affaire-Bolt was perhaps a short-term disaster, but for the overall health of the sport the rule is a good—and needed—one. As we noted in “We Think” last month, “We liked the rule when it was introduced and we still like it. Having said that, we think the IAAF should take a step back and revert to the one-on-the-field.” But we think the original everybody-gets-one-rule that some are demanding is counterproductive.

Just when the false-start furor died down, the IAAF found itself in another fine kettle of fish with its new edict about no mixed-sex World Records in road racing (see p. 37). The press once again had a field day.

“It’s a move that could only have been made by an organization that doesn’t know its public relations ass from its elbow,” said Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune.

Simon Hart of the London Telegraph led with, “Having plumbed the depths of incompetence with its botched elections at last month’s Congress in Daegu…”

“Boneheaded and heartless. This all I could think of after I heard what had been done to Paula Radcliffe and Deena Kastor,” said Christopher McDougall of the London Guardian.

As right as the IAAF was on the false-start ruling, it’s as wrong—or worse so—in this marathon debacle. The obvious hypocrisy (some call it rampant sexism) that the alphabet-boys are showing in allowing men to have paid professional pacesetters, on the track as well as the road, while at the same time punishing women who happen to be in the same race as men who are as often as not not world-class boggles the mind.

And this is by no means a new development. With T&FN co-founder Bert Nelson leading the early charge, this magazine has been railing against mixed-sex restrictions for more than a quarter-century.

What’s particularly galling to me/us is that while there were perfectly good reasons to tighten up the false-start situation (presentation is everything in modern sport, and a long sequence of redos only screw that up), we have no idea where the impetus to change the road rules came from.

We’ve not heard any athletes complaining about the old way. And the mega-race marathon directors are equally shocked.

So whose idea was this anyway? Sounds like the answer to a problem that didn’t exist.