Does Running Have the Most Dysfunctional Governing Body in History?

Settle in, because I'm in a bit of a ranty mood.

I haven't comment on the doping scandals that popped in the news, first with the accusations against the Nike Oregon Project and, this past week, the IAAF data that got leaked. I hope the allegations are not true but fear that worse is still to come. Justin Lagat made a great point about the lack of names painting all elite runners with the same tarring brush. As he put it on Facebook, "From now henceforth, allegations with NUMBERS and NOT NAMES are a good as useless to me."

That said, running has a big problem with PEDs. The lack of names comes from the reluctance of the IAAF to enforce sensible rules to protect the honest athletes. Today, we get the news that the IAAF went back and found 28 athletes were using at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. So far, no names have been made public.

Color me skeptical, but I don't think they would have gone back and looked at those results except for the data breach last week. The IAAF got embarrassed and is doing exactly what every entrenched bureaucracy does, throwing people under buses. Given an option, I think they'll do it by reputation and seek to avoid actually naming the individuals (as Justin pointed out). Much easier to smear (mostly retired) athletes by innuendo. Plus they get to point out how actively they pursue PEDs without doing anything about the current problems.

The various governing bodies need the spectacle of competition to drive revenues. World records also act to drive interest. It behooves them to treat the many questionable tests reported as outliers. An outrageous scenario? Look to Lance Armstrong and the International Cycling Union, whom Floyd Landis accused of protecting Armstrong.

Is it so hard to picture the same in running?

Now, on to Nick Symmonds.

USATF, in their usual immitigably tone-deaf manner, managed to bring back images of the bad-old-days of the AAU. As part of the agreement to be on the US team for Worlds, athletes are required to sign an agreement, part of which states that they will wear official Nike uniforms and gear at team events. The problem is that the term "team events" never gets defined. A good idea of what they meant can be inferred from a letter they sent along with the agreement, to wit: "Accordingly, please pack ONLY Team USA, Nike or unbranded apparel ..."

Man, it's almost like Nike hates real competition and uses the USATF as a bought-and-paid-for enforcement arm.

Remember the comment above about how bureaucracies react? Yep, they live down to that low standard. For starters, they questioned his honesty in bringing this up now when he had signed the agreement in the past. Of course, he was sponsored by Nike back then, so the point was irrelevant. Now he's sponsored by Brooks. He'd like to honor his contract by wearing Brooks gear at appropriate times. Hard to do when you're told to leave all your branded gear that doesn't have a swoosh on it at home.

According to Nick, he got hassled by USATF officials in a hotel lobby for wearing Brooks stuff. I am unclear on how coffee-drinking becomes a team event. Nick evidently had similar questions, hence the reluctance to sign the contract without a better definition of terms.

The USATF refused to define the term. When Symmonds didn't sign, they sent out him a nicely passive-aggressive email stating, "Without you having submitted a fully executed USATF Statement of Conditions for the 2015 IAAF World Championships, I am disappointed to have to inform you that you will not be named to the U.S. Team in the men's 800m event."

Yep, all Symmonds' fault and they are so disappointed, but not enough to go against Nike.

Now, in the aftermath, the attacks continue. Alan Abrahamson, noted Olympic writer, put forth an article that seeks to subtlety paint Symmonds as greedy and looking to enhance the Symmonds brand. Cueing Abrahamson, "Consider: This predicament is entirely of Symmonds’ own making." This piece of prejudicial writing comes early in the article, clearly to color everything that follows.

Later in the article you can nearly hear Abrahamson harrumphing as he writes, "That he said he made “several offers” to help USATF draft a new Statement of Conditions is misleading and unhelpful . . .  who is Symmonds to take it upon himself to undertake such an individualized effort?"

Abrahamson finishes with a nice piece of character assassination:

Oh, and if 1:44.53 is your season’s best in the 800, and you’re looking at a field in Beijing that is going to be dramatically better than it was in Moscow two years ago, and you’re at risk of not even making the finals, you might make the choice that it’s better for your brand not to go but, instead, cast yourself as a crusader in the vein of the saintly Steve Prefontaine against USATF.

The doping problems, the sponsorship strongarm, follows on the heels of the delegate mess earlier this year where the governing board of the USATF overrode the vote of the membership to place USATF President Stephanie Hightower onto the IAAF board instead of Bob Hersh. Willie Banks, former Olympian and Board member summed it up succinctly as "totally unforgivable." 

It's becoming quite apparent that the organizing bodies have no respect for the athletes they presume to govern. It's almost like the athletes exist to fund the USATF for the employees instead of representing the best interests of the sport.