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 say on Wednesday about 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.
A Message from the USATF Board of Directors
The Board’s selection of IAAF Representatives has been the topic of significant discussion within the USATF Community. The press release announcing our choices (http://www.usatf.org/News/USATF-Board-selects-IAAF-candidates.aspx) described the process as well as providing a brief statement about our discussion and rationale.
Articles 10 and 11 of the USATF Bylaws govern our Board of Directors, including the procedures for the selection of board members (http://www.usatf.org/usatf/files/88/887145bb-dfaa-4ed6-90f3-e5ef92d9bf1a.PDF). These Articles include a nomination process from committees, up through the Nominating and Governance Panel, for the board positions representing High Performance, Coaches, Officials, Youth, General Competition and Long Distance Running. These groups each nominate three candidates, one of whom from each group is selected by the USATF Nominating and Governance Panel. Three athletes are directly elected by their constituents, three independent members are selected by the Nominating and Governance Panel, and a representative of 5C organizations sit on the board, as well as our IAAF representative.
Since our 2008 Annual Meeting, nominations for IAAF positions have been submitted by committees through the Nominating and Governance Panel for consideration and selection by the board. The intent of that legislation – written by a board that pre-dated the current board – was to increase the likelihood of American candidates being selected to IAAF positions. This effort has been largely successful.
Leading into the 2014 Annual Meeting, a memo was circulated seeking to change the selection procedures for the IAAF Council position to have it be a position elected by voting members at the Annual Meeting. This memo specifically stated that the explicit purpose of the change was to achieve the outcome of having our current IAAF Council representative, Bob Hersh, being re-appointed. The memo made several references to USATF being a democratic institution.
Very few organizations in our everyday lives are “pure democracies,” where decisions are made by a straight popular vote. At USATF, we vote for our officers and leaders via democratic means, but it is through a delegate system. And while democratic institutions such as governments have governance as their sole function, USATF also functions as a business. Our governance therefore is a combination of governance and business principles, under the USOC charter.
In the last two years, USATF’s business has seen more positive changes in our bottom line than ever before. Those changes have come about because of the efforts of our CEO, Max Siegel, who has increased revenue from $19M to $34M, increased net assets from less than $4M to $17M, and entered into nine new partnership agreements. The public needs to understand that Max as CEO oversees business, not governance. He had and has no role, and no vote, in the selection of our IAAF representatives.
The IAAF representative position is a diplomatic position, representing USATF at a global representative body – the IAAF. Even in the world’s greatest democracy, the United States, our diplomatic positions such as ambassadors are appointed, not elected. This IAAF position is no different. It, as well as our candidates for IAAF committees, are selected by the board after input from membership and committees.
In the case of Friday’s selections, we took the recommendation of the USATF body that was present at the Annual Meeting very seriously. That body voted by more than 80 percent to suggest Bob Hersh for the IAAF position. Bob has been part of the IAAF in various capacities since 1984, and is currently Sr. Vice President. He serves the IAAF very actively and very ably in many capacities. Stephanie has been active in the sport internationally for more than 35 years and is highly respected in IAAF circles.
The IAAF is at the threshold of perhaps the biggest change in its history. Its President, Lamine Diack, will finish his time in office this August. Diack has been IAAF president since 1999; he was preceded by Primo Nebiolo, who served from 1981 until his death in 1999. Elite athletes currently competing have never done so under any president but Diack.
The top two candidates for Diack’s successor are Sebastian Coe, who oversaw the wildly successful 2012 London Olympic Games, and Sergey Bubka, one of the most successful track athletes in history. Coe has already declared his candidacy, writing a manifesto that discusses the need for the sport to modernize. Bubka is expected to declare as well. No matter which candidate is selected, it is clear the IAAF will move into a very new era and into a new direction.
Change is difficult for any organization. It is especially difficult when it involves long-serving officials. In 2015, there will be significant, structural change at the IAAF – with their leadership, with their direction, vision and politics. This is a different era and a different time. We think Stephanie Hightower provides us with the best chance to move forward as part of that change.
Far from subverting USATF’s democratic process, we followed it. An hour before the board convened our meeting, the membership enacted governance changes that enabled them to recommend an IAAF Council nominee to the board. That legislation required a super-majority, 2/3 vote of our board to reject and then select another candidate different than the one recommended by the body. The board that met on Friday included three newly selected board members in their first meeting. Only one person from a board comprised of representatives from officials, coaches, athletes, LDR, high performance and general competition dissented to the selection of Stephanie Hightower.
Leaders are charged to lead and to make difficult choices. This was a choice about the opportunity to be a key part of a historic change that will take place at the IAAF this August, and to have an opportunity to be among the leaders of that change. The next 10 years at the IAAF will bear little resemblance to the previous 30.
As a board, we follow USATF procedures and make hard choices. We recognize that this choice was unpopular among those in attendance at the Annual Meeting, but we believe we made the right choice for the organization for the right reasons. We are optimistic that the coming year will continue the growth of the organization at all levels.
Chief Public Affairs Officer
USA Track & Field
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