The award for the biggest PR disaster of the past few weeks was the proposal to bring credibility to athletics regarding some of its world records. The important word is “some”. Most of those records were known to anyone who spent a bit of time checking out World Records. There have been times in our sport when anti doping was the focus of dilettantes. It was an after thought. This is not so anymore.
The recent proposal wants to put a line in the sand, and look to the future. It was an approach to a complicated problem in our sport. This approach may not be the right way to go. In this article, Stuart Weir is definitely not a fan, and he says why.
We are in a time when changes need to be made. But, as Stuart Weir notes, this proposal, while well meaning, has had the absolute result of bringing most of the sport’s frustration down on those involved.
A good idea to change our record system, but this does not seem to be the way.
The proposal to expunge all world records set prior to 2005 is flawed! There is an argument that a grand gesture is needed to demonstrate that there is a will to clean up the sport. There has been the inevitable outcry from athletes who will lose their world records. Interestingly at the Doha Diamond League press conferences, athletes seemed quite divided on the idea. The proposal is flawed because 2005 is an arbitrary date. So all world records set after 2005 are squeaky clean then? It also begs the question as to whether 2017 World records will be cancelled in 2030 because 2017 testing protocols will seem embarrassingly prehistoric by 2030.
But the real reason the proposal is flawed is that it is based on presumption of guilt rather than actual evidence. The consensus of opinion within the sport is that some old world records are suspicious and that others are solid and credible. To expunge all on grounds of age – rather than evidence – is inherently unsatisfactory. It also goes against the traditional legal principle of the presumption of innocence until proved guilty.
But I wonder if there is a bigger issue and if the process is actually flawed by the very desire to compare past and present. We love to do it. Would Joe Louis have beaten Muhammed Ali? How would Rod Laver fare against Bjorn Borg or Novak Djokovic? Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods each in their heyday? We could go on posing these fascinating yet unanswerable questions all day.
It is a principle of sport that you can only beat those who turn up to compete on the day. Brianna Rollins is the current Olympic champion in the 100H. Is her achievement lessened by the fact that world record holder Kendra Harrison was not in the final? Not in my book, Brianna took on everyone who lined up in the final that day in Rio and beat them.
It is not as if all records are equal any way. Surely a record run in a competitive championship race is worth far more than a manufactured, paced, “exhibition” race.
There is no doubting that there is a problem but none of the proposed solutions seems satisfactory. Would it perhaps be better to give less attention to world records and concentrate on the current year. We could award prizes for the fastest, highest and longest in 2017, then start again on 1 January 2018. That way we would be likely to be comparing like with like.