Mother Knows Best...

Almost ten years ago when I was living in Orlando, Florida my parents were down vacationing and I met the two of them at Applebee’s.


I had been going through a rough time…financially, romantically, professionally, and of course my relationship with my parents was quite strained.


Anyway…we were attempting to work through some stuff when my mom said something to me.


And to be honest I don’t remember what it was she said I just remember saying “and why would I do that?”


And she said…”because I’m your mother that’s why…and I know what’s best.”


And I hopped out of my seat so fast (this was when my bad temper was barely under control) nearly tipping the table to ask in full voice if she “was my mother when….


insert list of grievances here.”


It wasn’t one of my finer moments. 


But I remember feeling that, even in movies, that that line “because I know what’s best for you” even when true, is lazy.


I remember feeling that that line is actually a diplomatic way of saying, “sit down, shut up, and go with it because I believe I know better than you”


And I’m not bringing this story up to air out my dirty laundry but to say that this memory was exactly what came up for me when last week the IAAF released it’s new qualifying standards and Diamond League format.


More specifically the quote, “change is never easy” delivered by IAAF President Sebastian Coe is what did it for me. 


Because we love to say that as a response when someone raises a hand and says, “wait a minute, what?”


It’s patronizing.


And even though his goal as president is to “make [athletics] even stronger and more relevant to the world our athletes and our fans live in today” 


me asking what the hell that even means doesn’t mean I’m a proponent for the status quo, it means I can see through the word salad and would like to, as an athlete in this system, know what the president of a federation that controls my profession is talking about.


President.


President is unfortunately an inflammatory word in a lot of ways these days. But with news breaking everyday about our own president here in the US, I began to wonder about how an IAAF president comes to power.


So I went digging to understand this process. And after downloading several documents and reading through them all, taking notes in the margins, and highlighting passages that required additional research, I think I have somewhat of a working understanding. 


There was one document that stood out to me called “Time for Change”  though.


It was filed under the IAAF reform section and is a “summary of the final proposal for governance structure reform of the IAAF”


It opens with a letter from the President Lord Seb Coe. In which he says that the document that follows is “a framework that will help the next generation to protect, promote, and provide for athletes and athletics in a responsible, responsive, accessible, and transparent way, it is time to leap, not to tip toe.”


Okay…


Coe goes on to say that his ideas and promises were outlined more throughly in a campaign manifesto he apparently circulated in order to garner support for his candidacy. I would love to read this manifesto, and the promises that he made to his electorate but I could not find this document anywhere.


He acknowledges that the IAAF still has a lot of work to do to restore their reputation, credibility, and trust within our own sport and the wider world of sport. But says that “change will create trust. Change will return the confidence to clean athletes. Change that will attract more resources. Change that is lasting and change that leads…”


Hmm…


Change that will attract more resources?? 


That caught my attention and so I continued to read to see if it was clear who the recipients of these additional resources would be but he brought his letter to a close.


In the press release, celebrating the 10 year success of the Diamond League it’s highlighted that the DL is the top annual athletics global competition and that it was broadcast to 360 million fans in over 172 territories worldwide in 2018 and that there is $8 million dollars in prize money up for grabs.


360 million fans…


172 territories worldwide…


8 million dollars in prizes…


EIGHT.


Million.


Dollars.


Let me illustrate how that is the most pathetic number of all. 


We’ve got 360 million fans that watch the diamond league in some way fashion or form?


That eight million dollars available as prize money is equivalent to each of those fans paying $.022 to the IAAF a year to watch professional athletics. 


Or each of those worldwide territories paying $46,511.62 a year to the IAAF


It’s less than half the money Nike pays USATF per year in their partnership.


I mean at that 8 million dollar number couldn’t the IAAF crowd source a fundraiser for more prize money than they’ve made available??


In other words, no one at the IAAF has figured out how to generate revenue. And that’s not surprising, it took Twitter ten years to figure out how to make its widely popular platform profitable.


But Twitter didn’t make their inability to generate revenue the problem of its users though.


Which I believe is what the IAAF is doing. 


The press release closes out by saying that they will “review the world rankings process and reformed global calendar to support and protect the circuit so that the world’s top athletes have the incentive to compete more regularly which we know our fans want more than anything else”


This means, in a nutshell, that they are going to reform the system so that we athletes HAVE to compete more and not necessarily for more money either.


The use of the word “incentive” here is clever. Because most of us assume that incentives must be pleasurable.


That’s not at all true. 


A speeding ticket is incentive to not go so heavy on the gas the next time you’re behind the wheel.


I’m incentivized to compete at as many diamond league meets as possible now because my world ranking is tied to them…


and my world ranking decides whether I get a bonus or a reduction from my shoe sponsor at the end of the season…


and probably decides if I can even get a lane or a spot in a future diamond league meeting…


When they changed the diamond league final format the first time it disappeared our appearance fees, because suddenly the organizers understood that we now needed them more than they needed us.


Suddenly, we HAD to be there at the final or we could kiss a potentially large prize, a higher world ranking, and good favor goodbye.


Jumpers who are down to four meetings see their negotiating power greatly diminish the later it gets into the season because organizers know we need to get in.


We were incentivized alright.


Even more so now, especially with the announcement that they will be cutting some (yet to be named) disciplines entirely. 


FYI, I don’t have a problem with the higher standards. Jump farther, run faster, period. Isn’t that always my goal?


It’s whatever. 


It is what it is.

I had no plans to struggle jumping 6.82 any damn way.


But what is irritating, if not truly upsetting is that we are world class/elite at something that a council or congress can put on the chopping block at any time if they feel it’s no longer relevant to the modern world.


As inspiring as it is to watch Emma Coburn run, it’s just as possible that the congress or the council found that performance to be irrelevant???


And that statement, coming from someone who not only participated in the sport but was successful at it, and is the president of the federation who by its own constitution declares itself the guardian of this sport is incredibly disappointing.


Athletics was and always will be timeless in its purest form. And those of us who have dedicated our time to participating in it by coaching, training, competing etc. are watching it die a death by a thousand cuts, not because it’s no longer relevant…but because its guardians have traded its identity for relevancy in a society obsessed with trends.