Several points should be made about the statement sent on 12/9 from the USATF Board regarding their decision to overturn the USATF floor vote. The USATF Board clearly owns their decisions. The USATF Board clearly supports Stephanie Hightower as the future representation for USATF at the IAAF. And the USATF Board will do what they see is in the best interest of USA Track & Field, no matter what the response. And that, dear readers, begins our lesson for today.
And finally, they have a plan that they believe will elevate the status of USA Track & Field on the global stage.
It is quite telling about how the Board will respond to future challenges and how they will exhibit power and protection for the federation that they are expected to steer into the cold and challenging waters of the future.
The outcry by members and non-members of USA Track & Field has not withered the resolve of the Board of Directors over their decision to support Stephanie Hightower instead of incumbent Bob Hersh.
In fact, their resolve has been strengthened.
Consider this: In the last 96 hours, the son of the IAAF President has been accused of improper conduct in regards to Doha 2017, and also allegedly accepting money to change a drug test result. The IOC allegedly wants to tighten the Olympic schedule in Rio. Rumor had it (we are trying to confirm) regarding the tightening of the Track schedule in Rio 2016 by cutting up to five track and field events. We are getting into some pretty muddy waters. The IOC has also just self funded a 24 hour Olympic-love TV station.
If you think the IOC’s religion is sports, guess again, it is ratings and money. Money and ratings are the seats of power in the world of global sport. Many want to be seated at the table and the IOC sees this as a way to weaken the IAAF. Want an image? Just think of Nero, with an IOC pin, dancing around a burning pyre of athletic events and lessening athletic prestige.
Primo Nebiolo was not a bastion of propriety. But, the guy knew how to play sports emperor, and his focus on getting athletics money and prestige scared the hell out of the IOC. The IAAF is having some issues right now, and in this time of self inquiry and discernment, the IOC sees it as a moment to pounce. Don’t believe me, just google what Dick Pound, that wonderfully bombastic Canadian IOC member had to sayabout cutting events from the Rio schedule. Pound can not help but open his mouth when Olympic media are around. And he has the most wonderful and thoughtful comments on drugs in sports, and making the Olympics simpler: perfect sound bytes in this day and age of twenty-four hours of redundant and sub par media coverage.
Oh, the good old days. When track & field knew its place…
I believe that the Board sees that their absolute duty is to protect the interests, as they see them, of USA Track & Field. In the recent original statement from the board, it was made clear that, while they saw the vote on the floor of 392-70 as a mandate, they also saw that mandate as ill-advised. Steve Miller, a man well practiced in sports politics, from coaching to being an Athletic Director, to being the Director of Nike Sports Marketing, then, CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association, and now, in his current role of CEO of Agassi Graf Holdings (yes, Andre and Steffi) … is vice chair of a board that has multinational-company executives and experienced track figures well versed in constituent politics. They range from Jackie Joyner-Kersee to a masters track athlete who happens to be an executive at Deutsche Bank, a senior VP at CBS news who was a former sports agent, an executive the National Federation of State High School Associations, a former Miami Heat and LPGA exec, and experienced representatives of USATF’s various constituencies: the athletes, coaches, officials, Associations, LDR and competition divisions. (View board bios at http://www.usatf.org/About/
The Board of Directors of USA Track & Field are heavy weights. The Board sees and understands the IAAF in a way that the USATF public doesn’t, simply because the average track fan or Annual Meeting attendee hasn’t seen the inside of the IAAF. Nothing is taken lightly in the world of global sports politics, just as nothing is taken lightly when the board makes a decision that contradicts what their voters indicated as their preference.
I believe that the Board is willing to give up an IAAF Vice President’s position if they can get USATF’s strategic goals accomplished. If they can replace Bob Hersh, a man who held, per some, beliefs that put the good of the sport in front of the good of USA Track & Field, with Stephanie Hightower, who will, without a moment’s hesitation, support projects that the Board sees as best for USA Track & Field, then the Board will do it. Truth is, the Board already has. Don’t confuse power and popularity. The Board clearly feels that in the post-Diack world, Hightower will give USATF a more powerful voice at the IAAF table, even if that choice is not popular among USATF rank-and-file.
My deepest concern is how the IAAF will view the vote to replace Bob Hersh, someone who has been well-respected in the global sports world, garnering more votes than Sebastian Coe and Sergey Bubka for IAAF Vice Presidents in the IAAF recent election. (But, that may be a discussion for another time and place).
Want to challenge the board? Then, as the saying goes, “Man up.” Get your A game out, because, the Board is playing for keeps. The Board sees USATF’s international standing as something to fight for, in an international sports landscape that can best be called partisan, or perhaps, problematic. Finally, anyone who thinks a few thousand tweets is some kind of social media campaign that will bring this group down, well, I do have a little house in Wisconsin that is worth more than the asking price!
The real story here? USA Track & Field is having growing pains. It is caught between being a volunteer organization and a centralized federation. And the battle has just begun.
If the huddled masses want to respond, then, do it with force, with pressure and with one voice. A bunch of whining voices will go nowhere and will be seen as a sign of weakness.