Not a big fan of MJ’s commentaries, but I think this is a good article.
Athletics: Drastic times call for drastic measures
By Michael Johnson (Filed: 30/09/2003)
The 2002 athletics season ended with Tim Montgomery breaking the 100 metres world record to become the fastest man in the world and being kissed by the fastest woman in the world, Marion Jones, at the Grand Prix final in Paris. At that point it was revealed that the two were a couple. Good stuff for athletics!
Unfortunately things went downhill fast from there. Those two went and hired one disgraced coach, Charlie Francis, and then Denise Lewis recruited another, Dr Ekkart Arbeit.
All of that happened before the 2003 season even started, and by the time it ended it had to have been one of the worst - if not the worst - seasons for the sport.
The times were terrible, quality was lacking, and then there were the World Championships in Paris. The championships actually provided great competition across several events, even though the times were not great, and the event was well organised and supported by the French. But all of the drug news and the false start controversy and, more importantly, the way these things were handled by the International Association of Athletics Federations, played into the hands of people who don’t care what happens in the sport.
The way these events were explained and handled made the sport look disorganised and out of control. I hear people in athletics say it’s a shame that television networks do not show more events, that the sport isn’t bigger in the United States and that track and field athletes are some of the best athletes in the world but get no recognition.
What is a shame is that this is not a new problem and these aren’t new complaints but the organisation and the people responsible for doing something about it don’t.
My suggestion for athletics is to start by admitting there is a problem, it’s not anyone else’s fault and that we need to fix it quickly. The sport has to admit that there are half the number of sponsors it used to have and that several competitions have disappeared due to lack of backers and financial woes. Then figure out how to get those sponsors back. Figure out how to make the sport more appealing and easier to televise.
This is done by looking at other sports, how they have survived, and what makes them so popular, and by finding out what people find appealing about athletics and what they don’t.
Focus on, and get back to, the simplicity of the sport and what originally made it appealing, that is the competition between the athletes, and stop contributing to the obsession with breaking records.
Track and field is four disciplines in one: sprinting, distance running, jump events and weight events, and they’re all very different. Some have absolutely nothing in common with the others, yet they all come under the same governing body, take place at the same venue at the same time, and attempt to appeal to the same audience.
That dynamic makes it very hard to televise and very hard to grow a fan base.
The sport is at a point where it has to reinvent itself to move forward and possibly to survive. This may mean that some events won’t continue to be a part of the professional athletics circuit even though they are part of the sport. The decathlon is a good example because it is not a part of the professional circuit because it takes too long to complete.
To most of the people who make the decisions in this sport, eliminating some events would probably seem an impossible suggestion. I would say to them, drastic times call for drastic measures.
The other complaint I heard a lot this year was that we don’t have any stars or personalities in the sport any more, and that’s the problem.
Right, blame the athletes! There are plenty of personalities but we don’t have stars because this sport doesn’t make stars.
When great track athletes do great things at the Olympics they become stars because that’s when people around the world actually pay attention to athletics.
It is because of the Olympics that the sport hasn’t gone completely off the map, but I believe that the fact that athletics is the centre-piece of the Olympics has caused the complacency that is to blame for most of the problems.