Mills says track and field suffering as largely amateur sport; urges full professional identity
MILLS...the sport needs to grow its own identity as it is too tied in the minds of the global public with the Olympic Games (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Racers Track Club founder Glen Mills says track and field needs to move past what he describes as its amateurism to truly be as lucrative as other major sports.

Amateurism in sports regards athletes competing without incentives, especially monetary ones, and this is one of the core philosophies of the Olympic Games, where athletes are believed to be competing for the love of country above all.

But many inside the athletics fraternity say that this ideal is holding back not only athletes from maximising their earnings but the sport as a whole in terms of its profile and marketing.

Mills, who coached one of the biggest stars in athletics' history, Usain Bolt, was speaking during a recent Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, says the sport needs to grow its own identity as it is too tied in the minds of the global public with the Olympic Games, hurting its image as one of the world's top sports.

Racers Track Club head honcho Glen Mills (left) shares a light moment with his most famous client, sprint legend Usain Bolt at an edition of the Racers Grand Prix.Photo: Observer file

"It is a slave to the Olympic amateurism and if it doesn't get away from that, it is gonna die," Mills said. "It is dying and it will die eventually because, of the top 10 sports, track and field is the only one that gets its legitimacy from the Olympics. The Olympics is an amateur event. Any footballer or football country would give up all the Olympic medals for a World Cup victory or to even reach a World Cup final.

"Any basketball player would throw away all their Olympic medals for just an NBA title, so would a tennis player, a boxer for a world championship, and I could go on and on and on."

While the Olympic Games is one of the biggest global sporting events, Mills says it is secondary to football's most prestigious tournament, the FIFA World Cup. This, he says, means that athletics is in serious trouble since it is so identified by its association with the Games.

"Until track and field can develop that independence that the World Championships is bigger than an Olympic medal then, it is gonna die," he said. "Even the International Olympic Committee is trying to remove some of the track and field events from the programme. They made the first step but track and field hung on to them [the events].

"Track and field needs to be made a real professional sport and the way to do that is to take away the restrictions. For example, an athlete cannot wear a shirt with a sponsor printed across their chest. In football, when you see players out there, it's like a billboard."

More incentives brought into the sport, through sponsorships, and even prize monies on offer would, in Mills' eyes, generate more interest and curiosity from worldwide audiences.

"The prize money for winning the 100m and breaking the world record is like US$60,000 (over J$9 million)," he said. "That's no money. If you make the prize money US$1 million (over J$155 million), the value of it creates interest. When someone hears it's US$1 million, they get excited. People want to see it because it's expensive. When you hear of a tournament and the prize is US$15 million (over J$2.3 billion) you're gonna wonder what they're playing for, for so much money. That is what drives us. Until track and field decides to get an executive director to commercialise the sport and really put it on the map and really get rid of all the shackles, [nothing will change]. It can, but it has to create its own identity."

Mills is now preparing for the return of the Racers Grand Prix, a three-and-a-half-hour meet at the National Stadium at 6:30 pm this Saturday.

The meet, which is a World Athletics Continental Tour – Silver event, will feature some of the biggest names in track and field, although Mills has said he is still working to add more high-profile athletes to the start lists.

Among those already confirmed are world champions Jamaican Shericka Jackson; American Noah Lyles; Nigerian Tobi Amusan, the 100m hurdles world record holder; Olympic champion Hansle Parchment; former Olympic champion and 400m hurdles world record holder Dalilah Muhammad of the United States; former Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk, the 400m world record holder from South Africa; and American world champion Christian Coleman, who clocked a wind-aided 9.78 seconds to beat Nyles (9.80) and Jamaican Ackeem Blake (9.87) in the 100m at the USATF Bermuda Grand Prix on May 21.

Racers Track Club's Oblique Seville and Zharnel Hughes will also be competing over 100m and 200m, respectively, with Seville going up against Coleman and Hughes taking on Lyles.

Racers Grand Prix.
BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator parchmentr@jamaicaobserver.com

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