Sports

World athletics and the need for quid pro quo

BY RACHAEL IRVING

Friday, November 22, 2019

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In an article published in The Gleaner, Laurie Foster appealed to the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) and North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) to defend the earning rights of athletes who participate in the 200m, discus, steeple chase and triple jump.

These events will be removed from the Diamond League finals in Brussels and Zurich, although there will be intermittent staging of these events at some of the stops in the circuit.

I often wonder about the tunnel vision of our sports administrators.

A few years back, Sebastian Coe was a regular feature of meets in Jamaica and the NACAC region as he canvassed for presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The region should have struck a deal then, our votes for one of the top-five positions in the IAAF. We cannot be a part of any decision process, if we do not sit at the table.

The IAAF sighted television viewership as one of the criteria for removal of certain events from the finals. This, they said, was based on market research. Previously they removed some of the distance races, citing length of time.

Like DSD (disorder of sex development) and Caster Semenya ban, the research seems to be convenient sampling tailored for particular outcomes. How I miss Teddy McCook. When I wanted to bring a new level of anti-doping research and education to the region, I canvassed the late Teddy McCook. I remembered Teddy telling me that as long as I had the research data, we can strategise secretly for the right outcome by tapping into certain key persons at IAAF. For weeks Teddy canvassed the power brokers in Monaco secretly.

Three months later, I had the IAAF 's anti-doping result manager and top-flight lawyer flying into Jamaica to rubber stamp support. By the time the power brokers from Jamaica and the region could stop it , it was already sealed.

In 2013, Jamaica was on the verge of being blacklisted for non-compliance to anti-doping rules. I reached out to Dick Pound, founding president of WADA (World Antidoping Agency) . I asked that he visit Jamaica for a workshop. He was our most strident critic. Sporting administrators in the region were appalled. He seemed to be advocating for Jamaica to be struck off the register of compliant countries, how could I invite him here?

What the research showed then is if we got Dick in our corner, showing that academic institutions and the government were into anti-doping education and research, then a case could be made that we may not have got it right in testing, but we were trying in other areas. Dick visited for the workshop and criticised us severely in the media. However, he saw another side of anti-doping education in Jamaica, that was not visible had he not visited. Consequently, I was invited by WADA in 2013 as an independent observer to the rule changing conference in South Africa, and today, Jamaica is one of the most anti-doping compliant countries and a model for others.

There are some administrators who believe that they have no real say in the IAAF's decisions, and by that they have given the IAAF too much power. The scientific exhibition of the world record run by Eliud Kipchoge in Austria was one of the most viewed events in history, which was not an IAAF event. The Nike Vaporfly shoes used in the event sent sales off the roof.

The Olympics in Tokyo is dubbed the “X Games” because of the technology involved. Athletic robots will be retrieving the javelin and discus during these events. The Kenyan sports minister spoke to me about an inaugural NASCAR-like event to be held in the Safari after the World Under-20 Games in Nairobi in 2020, where cars, athletes and animals will be running for the first time.

NACAC and Jamaica must reinvent themselves if they are to remain relevant to athletics. And for their part, IAAF should not hold the athletes ransom. I hope the athletes in Jamaica have signed on to the We Are The Sports movement initiated by Christian Taylor.

Note: Rachael Irving is a professor of biochemistry and sport science at the Faculty of Medical Sciences UWI, Mona.


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