WA’s “Global Conversation” — You Too Can Join

“We’re going out and we’re listening to people’s views and their perceptions,” says World Plan Working Group chair Willie Banks.

A WORLD PLAN for our sport is afoot and World Athletics wants your input, whatever your role in this rich pageant of competition we all love dearly. Now through April 30 is your window in which with a few mouse click replies to a brief survey you may join the brainstorming session. Your avenue runs through the Global Conversation, an initiative overseen by WA Council member and triple jump great Willie Banks along with 6 of his Council colleagues assisted by the Sports Business Group and international professional services giant Deloitte.

WA’s aim, as its announcement release explained, is to draw up a blueprint for building the sport and its profile in the period 2022–30 “in consultation with its Member Federations and other key interest groups, including athletes, coaches, officials, fans, schools, meeting directors, partners and media.

“The World Plan will be a key document for all involved in the sport, setting out a roadmap for the growth and development of athletics through to 2030.”

Banks — just turned 65 and professionally involved most recently in organization of the ’19 ANOC World Beach Games prior to his September ’19, election to the WA Council — has shared with T&FN some of his thoughts as the strategic initiative kicks off its data-gathering phase.

“Of course the vision has been there for quite some time,” says the erstwhile showman TJer, 11-time World Ranker and World Record setter, “And when our president, Sebastian Coe, told us about this, his vision and what we’re going to do with the World Plan, we got to work. He appointed me as chair, which is a huge blessing for me because this is something I’ve always wanted to do, to be able to affect the sport of athletics, track & field.

“So I’m like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ Since then we have been gathering information and putting together this member federation survey that went out and was finally returned by the member federations — which each country has one — last weekend.

“And now we have put out the Global Conversation, which is a survey of our stakeholders that includes people like the fans, the athletes, the media, broadcasters, our marketing partners. So it’s kind of external or outward facing.

“We wanted to know from them — it’s like a company who wants to hear back from their customers so that they can do a better job of serving the customer. It’s the same situation for sport, but it’s funny, there aren’t any federations who are doing this. This is so vital, but I guess we just think people just do what we tell them. But really, in order to improve, you do need these kinds of surveys in order to get that information so that you can improve.

“Most businesses improve their product and our product is our sport. So that’s what we’re trying to do. It lasts until April 30th. So the end of April 30th, we will have some quality data points that we can utilize to make a plan. And by July, after the Council has approved the plan, we can then execute that plan.”

To be sure, says Banks, “I have a lot of different things that I would like to do with the sport. It’s just that I’m ahead of everybody. Out in my mind, I’m way ahead of everybody else.” Lest you read that the wrong way, he says it with a smile, to suggest that what’s important to the mission is not what Willie Banks thinks, but what’s on the wish list of track’s global hive mind.

He says, “You and I are track geeks, right? We love our sport and we’re Americans. So we love it in the American way. And when I approached this, I approached it with my American lens on and I got beat down. It wasn’t a bad thing but Seb and others had to gently explain that everything is not USA.”

While many of us who look through the “American lens,” see with glaring clarity that our deep bench of fabulously elite athletes — and all of the world’s premiere stars, honestly — are underserved when it comes to showcasing their feats, their personalities and inspiring stories in a frenetically crowded entertainment sphere, Banks admits, “The focus in my head had to shift from how we see the sport to how 80 to 90% of the world sees the sport.”

As such, Banks — in his athlete days the boisterous and spontaneous inventor of “The Clap” for field-eventers, who took the TJ WR out to 58-11½ (17.97) and became the first all-conditions 18-meter man (59-8½w/18.20) — is now boosting with objectivity the Global Conversation. (Continued below)

Banks notes that when he operated as a competitor, U.S. nuts fed their track jones through a narrow pipe: T&FN (we like to think we still deliver), reliable regular reportage in newspapers and on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, to name a few go-to sources.

Today, Banks points out, we have “this new way of taking in information,” the digital octopus in every phone in every hand, “instead of just the television controlling what we can and cannot see. There is not control anymore. You can get whatever you want, and free.

“There’s a new paradigm that we have to adjust to. So we’re going out and we’re listening to people’s views and their perceptions, and we’re thinking, ‘Well, how do we manage and adjust our sport so that we can take the best advantage of new technologies of innovations, of new ideas, new philosophies, new ways of thinking.’

“And if we can do that, we can become number 1, right?” Why not? Track nuts will happily settle for a fitting place in the sun, don’t need to put a number on it.

COVID-now, in Banks view, is a seminal moment in which the sport should act, one comparable to another he lived through as a U.S. athlete 40-odd years ago. “It was the same when I was competing and I was No. 1 in the world and I couldn’t go to the Olympic Games that year [’80]. They boycotted. What was I going to do?” he asks.

“I had to change my whole thinking about the sport. Usually you go to the Olympic Games, you win, and then you stop. That was what the typical Olympian did back in the old days before 1980. But when they took that away with the boycott, what was I to do? So we changed the rules. We started this thing called a trust fund so I could make enough money so that I can train. And in changing those rules, we started to get rid of this whole idea of amateurs.

“And this is what we’re thinking about now: how are we going to change the sport? Well, the pandemic is like the boycott. It’s forced us to have to rethink our sport. So this is the perfect time for us to go out and ask the question, ‘What should we do now?’”

If you have thoughts — Banks knows you do — join the Global Conversation. Uncle WA needs YOU!