In an absolutely stunning press conference, Mo Farah and British Athletics managed damage control that had threatened to sink one of the most important figures in British Athletics in a half century-Mo Farah.
Mo Farah Press Conference, 6 June 2015, photo by Larry Eder
Last week, BBC and Pro Publicic, a non-profit investigative media group, showed the third part of a three part series on Drugs in Sports. In the third episode, the focus was Alberto Salazar and his athlete Galen Rupp. Allegations were made by a one time coach for Mr. Salazar, Steve Magness, as well as former athletes Adam and Kara Goucher.
Mr. Salazar and Mr. Rupp refuted the allegations, as did their sponsor, Nike.
In a stunning press conference, where British media was given thirty minutes to question Mo Farah, all but two questions were about the allegations on Salazar, Mo Farah’s coach.
Here is how I saw the press conference…
In a fascinating example of how to handle damage control effectively, Mo Farah may have not only saved his reputation today, but the reputation of British athletics.
Keen observers contacted by RunBlogRun noted that the BBC broadcast and feature written by the widely respected David Epstein seemed to be rehashing stories passed through the elite athletics rumor mill for some time. Steve Magness coming forward, at much risk to himself, and the comments of Adam and Kara Goucher were fascinating to some, and confusing to others.
More than anything, the BBC broadcast added to the polarization of many in the sport. There seems to be three camps: those who believe any fast performance in this day and age means that drugs are being used and drug testing is ineffective, versus those who believe that drug testing is widely effective and athletes are improving despite further testing to a disturbing third group, who, like in other sports, could care less about drug use or violence, and just want people who run fast, throw far and damage bodies beyond recognition. I call this third group the bread and circus crowd.
While BBC went to great pains to note that Mo Farah is not being accused of anything, Mr. Farah noted the irony. ” I was flying to the meet, and I saw an American women reading a British paper with the story on my coach and training partner. The pictures were all of me! ” noted an very anguished Mo Farah.
Nies De Vos, Chairman of British Athletics, spoke first for British Athletics. De Vos noted that British Athletics takes the accusations of the BBC regarding Mr. Salazar “very seriously” and has developed a committee to research all of the allegations to determine their veracity. De Vos made it quite clear that they will act in the best interest, as they see them, of the brand, British Athletics, and their super brand, Mo Farah.
Neil Black, British Athletics High Performance Officer, made it quite clear that British athletics manages Mr. Farah’s training and nutrition, and not Mr. Salazar, who acts as a consultant. When queried what type of research was done into Mr. Salazar’s character before Mo went to Portland, Neil Black responded. Black said that they had checked into Salazar’s background and were confident.
Mo Farah stayed on point. When I asked him one question, on his 3000m race in Doha, his better race in Eugene, but his frustration with the time, even though the race gave him confidence in his battle plans for Beijing, Farah noted that ” I wanted to run 26:30. I wanted a fast race. But we had problems with the pacers.”
In this press conference, similar to the one in Doha, Farah wanted the media to understand that there is much sacrifice involved in his globe trotting as a world class runner for GBR. ” I did not see my family for nearly three months” noted Farah.
He was also adamant about testing. He offered to show qualified viewers his testing from British athletics. Mo Farah noted that the only time he had an IV, noted as a TUE, was in Park City when he collapsed after being sick. He refuted that he used any Thyroid medication or any banned substances.
” I spoke to Alberto last night. I asked him about the allegations, and he said that he would provide answers to my questions. Right now, I have to race.”
Several times during the thirty minute presser, full of emotion, Mr. Farah repeated, “You guys are killing me.”
He was supportive of Alberto Salazar, but he admitted that if his questions were not answered, he would leave the Nike Oregon Project.
Mo Farah knows what he could lose: his fan base includes young and old. On RBR, for example, the weekend of Pre Classic, Farah outdrew other athletes by 22 times the normal daily average. For example, a picture on twitter draws an average of 1,024 views for RBR, with Mo Farah, on the day after his Pre Classic win, it was 23,000 views, all achieved in four hours of posting.
Mo Farah was definitely worked up. He was in anguish and the emotions were telling. At points, this writer thought he was about to tear up. The emotions are real, the feelings of frustration are real. Unfortunately, from conversations I heard from some media, who knew little about athletics, but saw Drugs and Mo Farah, and did all but said “this will be wonderful for ratings”, the feeding frenzy zeitgeist was there.
Today, with a photo of the Press conference on twitter, Mr. Farah drew 7400 views in less than an hour with an activation rate of over 16 percent.
Farah knows that the media will hold him to his promises this past afternoon.
Tomorrow, they will be watching him race the 1,500 meters, but in the next few weeks and months building up to Beijing, his fans will be watching his every move.
It is very apparent that British athletics, Nike and Mo Farah himself understand that, all too clear.