Celebrated athletics Coach Glen Mills believes local and international track and field authorities have failed to capitalise on the popularity of retired Jamaican sprinting icon Usain Bolt and is calling for sweeping reform of the sport’s marquee event, the World Athletics Championships.
Mills, who coached Bolt to eight Olympic and 11 World Championships gold medals as well as world records in the 100m and 200m, believes it is an indictment of the sport’s leadership that track and field remains over-reliant on the Olympic Games and believes the World Athletics Championships — which has its next instalment in Eugene, Oregon in July — has failed to elevate the sport into the mainstream.
“One of the things I will lament is that both locally and internationally, with a star performer of Bolt’s level, the sport did not capitalise on it in the way it should,” Mills told the Jamaica Observer.
“When I look at the impact of the advent of Tiger Woods, it’s clear that golf made the most of his popularity. You look at what the NBA became after Michael Jordan and how they have grown with their superstars, and we could go on. Whenever there is a superstar, these sports benefited immensely and continue to do so. Track and field in its semi-amateurism continue to miss the boat and it is time for track and field to become a fully professional sport,” Mills added.
A key element, based on his assessment, would be the elevation of the World Athletics Championships as the most important event in the sport and for its athletes – a position currently held by the Olympic Games, with changes ranging from the level of participation to athlete branding.
“Track and field need to create its own Mecca and not depend on competing at the Olympics as the main endorsement for the sport and its athletes. All the other major sports have their Mecca competition … golf has the Masters and tennis has its grand slams. Football — I wouldn’t even mention the World Cup or Champions League. For these sports, getting to the pinnacle, winning at their own top event supersedes any Olympic medal and that is where track and field needs to go if it is going to survive,” Mills shared.
The coach believes the World Championships, which is staged every two years, should become an annual event and must only include the most elite performers in every discipline. He also believes more branding opportunities should be allowed for athletes in order to increase income generation.
“The World Championship is not serving that purpose, it is still amateur in its function and the championship needs to be revolutionised into a real super event with super prizes and so on to capture the world,” Mills reasoned.
“You should create an atmosphere where people go every year to defend their title in order to keep the sport at the pinnacle of relevance and excitement.
“Also, in terms of performers, there are just too many, so let’s say, athletes that are not of a certain international level participate in another championship for exposure and participation purposes. The World Championships should not be a participation event,” Mills argued. “You have to raise the standard of who gets to the championship and you need to reduce the number of rounds in each event because the rounds are just to accommodate people who are not at the world level.”
“These are the kind of revolutionary things that need to be done. The whole question of the limitation of the competition gears not being able to put sponsors’ logos and name on it is restricting the earning power of the athlete and the sport. It’s time to remove the shackle of amateurism and make it truly a professional sport. Track and field is a fantastic sport and it shouldn’t be a junior sport at the world level to any other sport,” Mills stated.
In 2019, the World Athletics council approved marketing and branding protocols in 2019, which allowed greater flexibility in the placement of personal sponsors’ logos on the kits of individual athletes at meetings not including World Athletics Series events such as the World Championships and Diamond League, which sit at the top of the international athletics calendar.
The 18th edition of the World Athletics Championships will take place from July 15 to 24 and will be hosted for the first time in a US city.