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

Sanya Richards-Ross and the Money Tweets

Jul 20th, 2012
8:24 pm PST

Now to paraphrase Mrs. Ross, she wants the athletes to get paid much more than they are currently earning. She would love to have sponsorship opportunities such as using your uniforms/warm ups, a la NASCAR. And she would like to get paid for her Olympic participation. Before I give my personal opinion on the matter, I have to say that the reason I feel the need to respond is that she was taking a lot of flack from her followers for her opinions on the subject. She was called greedy, and that was the nicest word that I can repeat. Frankly the name calling was truly out of line.

Needless to say I wanted to respond, but tweets are just too short, so I’m doing so here and will forward the link to Mrs.Ross to share with her followers if she’d like. That said I agree with Sanya with one slight caveat. She is absolutely right – the athletes in track and field are grossly underpaid. And I like her ideas on potential revenue streams, but I want to tweak one – the one being the Olympics.

While the Olympics make millions of dollars, including worldwide television contracts, advertising revenue, etc, they are not the province of any single nation or sport. It’s a global phenomenon that has ties to multiple sports and nations. As a matter of fact, 204 countries will be participating in London in 26 sports representing over 10,000 athletes. For the Olympic Games to bear responsibility for “paying” athletes for their participation would be a Herculean task at the very least. That’s not the job of the Olympics, nor should it be. The job of the IOC and the Olympic movement is to put on a quadrennial event that serves as a goodwill gathering of the world’s best athletes who participate in sporting events as a show of global peace among nations. A bit grandiose, but that’s what it is.

Now, how those athletes are “provided” to the Games is another story. In our case the USOC serves as the facilitator between the various sports “heads” – NBA, USATF, USA Gymnastics, et al – to select and send qualified teams to represent the US at the Games. Now in the area of “what’s best for the athletes”, I do think it should be the responsibility of those various “governing bodies” to see that their athletes are compensated for their participation. Because Sanya is right in that the television revenue, advertising revenue and other financial gains made by the Olympic moment – ie IOC – is there solely because of the participation of the athletes. No athletes, no Games, no revenue.

So while it’s not the job of the Olympics to pay the athletes, I do think it’s the job of the USOC in conjunction with the various governing bodies (in this case USATF) to negotiate amenable revenue splits which in turn should translate to some sort of compensation for participants! I can think of several ways to work a system out that could accomplish this – and it’s something that should be done as it’s long overdue.

As a matter of fact, it should be done by USATF (in conjunction with the USOC) as part of a larger overarching / comprehensive  plan to create a system of revenue streams that could be used to compensate our elite athletes for their participation on various “national teams” – i.e. any time athletes don gear that says “USA” on it. The Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, Pan Am Games, etc. As a matter of fact if you’re running as USA Red or Blue at Penn I think you should get a stipend. You represent, you should be compensated – travel, accompdations, plus a little sumpin sumpin for your time and efforts.

So those who think Sanya is “greedy” are wrong IMHO. When they compete, they should get paid. It’s their profession, and frankly those athletes representing us in London are damned good at it. No one at USATF has done a single workout. They don’t pay coaches. They don’t provide masseurs. They will take/get credit for every medal won in London though! But just like the produce at the grocery store takes a lot of expense to be grown before it reaches the shelves, our athletes put in a lot of work before they take the starting line. And just like the farmer deserves to be paid for his expenses and hard work to deliver produce to the market, the athletes deserve to be paid for the hard work they put in to deliver performances in the name of the USA – i.e. USATF.

The sport has been derelict in this area for too long – providing adequate compensation to the athletes. This sport crossed the line from amateur to professional in the early to mid eighties, yet we’re still talking about the majority of the athletes struggling to make ends meet. Creating a compensation plan for our athletes should be a priority. And if USATF needs help they know how to reach me. Sanya is right, it’s time to get something done.

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