The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Coe Attempts to Destroy the Sport

Nov 10th, 2019
11:20 am PST

Despite the conditions – a long season and heat from Hell – the recently concluded World Championships was one for the books. One of the best competitions ever. With exciting events and athletes from opening to close. Combine that with the plethora of young stars in the sport, the Olympics being less than a year away, and one would think that track and field is poised for an exciting period of time. A period where we could perhaps make serious inroads into the community of sports fans that we’ve coveted forever.

I mean, why not? We have the kind of talent that viewers like. Noah Lyles, Grant Holloway, Michael Norman, Sydney McLaughlin, Rai Benjamin, Allyson Felix, Will Claye, Delilah Mohammed. Talented, handsome, articulate. Record setters. Athlete’s performing at all time levels. Lots of them!

But instead of talking about the upcoming Olympics. Instead of talking about how we’re going to leverage ALL OF THIS TALENT into what should be the greatest marketing campaign in the history of the sport. Track and field’s top athletes and most fervent fans are decrying the latest moves of the sport’s leadership! Because you see, while we – athletes and fans see opportunity in all this talent, Master Coe has chosen to minimize all this wonderful talent by removing much of it from the sport’s highest level competitions – the Diamond League.

Coe, top executive of the IAAF, has reduced these meets to 50% of a meet by cutting half of the events. Why? Well, in his estimation, sporting fans only have a 90 minute attention span, and therefore we will only spend an hour and a half watching a track meet on television! Someone needs to hurry up and tell the NBA and NFL, because their telecasts routinely run double and sometimes triple that 90 minute window! So do those of  baseball, soccer, golf, gymnastics, swimming, lumberjack competitions, and curling. All of which get more television air time than track does! And none of them are trying to reduce their sports. Go figure.

Yet, this year track and field’s premier non championship meets will be held with half the standard events. What’s being dropped? Well, let’s start with the 5000 and 10000 meter events. The 3000 steeplechase. Then take out the discus and triple jump. And finally the 200 meters! So, just what is Coe saying? Verbally he’s saying that he wants the sport to be more “palatable” to television ( see above).

Non verbally he’s saying that Africans don’t matter, since the depth and strength of nations like Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Algeria, et al are in the longer distances – 800 meters and up. He’s also saying that he thinks that taking Noah Lyles, Shaunae Miller Uibo, Daphne Schippers, Christian Taylor, Blessing Okagbare, Divine Oduduru, Ramil Guliyev, Alex Qinonez, Xie Zhenye, Will Claye, Yulimar Rojas, Michael Norman, Catherine Ibarguen, Sandra Perkovic, Daniel Stahl, and Federick Dacres – just to name a few – out of the Diamond League in their premier, and for some their only events, is a good idea! Really? In short in many subtle ways he’s saying that athletes of color are not needed in track and field! He thinks that he can sell the sport better without them than with them! Sorry, but he needs a drug test!!!

The finish of the men’s steeplechase at the World Championships was the closest finish of any track event. Closer than the men’s or women’s 100 meters. Yulimar Rojas’ winning leap in the triple jump made her #2 in history! The 200 meter showdown in Rome between Michael Norman and Noah Lyles was among the hottest showdowns of the season – and Lyles has replaced one Usain Bolt as the sport’s premier showman! Shaunae Miller Uibo stunned fans all year long with exciting runs at every distance. And the year long competition between triple jumpers Will Claye and Christian Taylor was one of the most exciting in the sport. Especially given that they are both within sight of one of the sport’s most venerable world records! Yet Coe believes that he can sell the sport better WITHOUT THEM!

This move, is about much more than marketing of the sport however – though on that note alone it’s a horrible move. Taking these events out of the Diamond League also takes away a major source of income from these athletes, because these are high income meets in track and field. In essence Coe is saying he doesn’t care about the pocket books/wallets of the affected athletes. There are already thoughts that distance runners will give up and take to the roads – beginning a permanent gutting of talent from the sport!

If Coe thinks that the athletes are just going to take this however, he miscalculated. In addition to the rumbling from distance runners, triple jumper Christian Taylor has formed an athletes association that is being met with enthusiasm from his peers. The goal being to give athletes a stronger voice in the sport. I for one believe this is long overdue. There was an attempt to do this back in the 80s. I hope that this time, the athletes see the handwriting on the wall and join in mass, because clearly the fox is indeed in the hen house. And this sport is being destroyed from the inside! The athletes need to stand up and be heard, because as Taylor said in announcing his association, the athletes ARE the sport.

One would think that Coe being a former athlete would understand that. What has become increasingly clear during his tenure however, is that he has no idea what this sport needs. Instead of looking at how the things he and his administration have done that have failed to advance the sport, he’s chosen to take the talent off the track! The irony as I alluded to earlier, is that the sport has the greatest young talent base it’s ever had! Marketing should be easier than its ever been. Presenting two to three hour meets PACKED with talent and excitement should be as easy as rolling out of bed! And we’re entering an Olympic year when everyone is finally looking forward to track and field. This should be a no brainer. Instead leadership is proving not to have a brain – or a clue. And the hue and cry around the world affirms that.

Like Taylor and the athletes, it’s time that we fans stand up and be heard as well. We should use the resources at our disposal to let the IAAF know what we think about the decisions coming out of that office. Twitter, Facebook, various forms of social media and old fashioned letters, emails and petitions. We need to let Coe and company that we do not appreciate their gutting of our sport. That it’s time for them to wake the hell up and make some adjustments. Before they seriously do permanent damage to track and field.

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