It is time for road running, and particularly the marathon circuit to go its own way, and leave the IAAF behind.
The saga of Ian Ladbrooke, the rogue agent who has stolen over half a million dollars from (mostly) African runners demonstrates that the IAAF is just not up to speed on the road circuit. That scandal, coupled with the recent phenomenon of young Africans going straight into marathons/road running without ever setting foot on a track competitively suggests that the time is ripe for a split from the IAAF; and the creation of an independent international road running federation which can oversee and regulate the sport properly.
That, of course will not be easy. But as the Ladbrooke farrago has demonstrated, the IAAF cannot do the job. And indeed, one prominent IAAF insider admitted as much to me recently, when I began making enquiries into Ladbrooke’s debts.
That admission (of incapability) chimed with a quote from Otto Klappert over five years ago. I was writing a piece on road running for the IAAF Magazine, and Klappert, the former head of the Cross Country and Road Running Committee told me, “We definitely didn’t pay sufficient attention to road running, when it started to become popular 30, 40 years ago. Road running came into an existing world of track & field, and we thought it was just a fashion that would go away. The IAAF started to take notice late, but thankfully it wasn’t too late. Now we’re trying to do more, because not only is road running very popular, it’s number one in athletics in terms of participants at the moment”.
The only thing to argue with there is that the IAAF is ‘trying to do more’. Yes, they have attempted various innovations. They introduced an IAAF Ekiden or World Road Relay Championships in the 1990s, which was discontinued; the half-marathon world championships became the road running world champs, then changed back. The World Cup began and was then incorporated into increased team numbers in the biennial World Championships. And the most recent innovation has been the Gold/Silver/Bronze Label system for marathons and halves; but proof of the weight given to that innovation is that it’s administration was given to one of the most minor employees at IAAF headquarters.
Which is one of the reasons why a man like Ladbrooke, repeatedly banned as an IAAF Athletes’ Representative (AR) by Kenyan and Ethiopian Federations (whose athletes have been affected most by his dishonesty and thieving) has been allowed to operate, not just on the margins of the road running circuit, but as elite recruiter on several Label races. Indeed this week, Ladbrooke is still working for Procam, an Indian company, from whose three events (Delhi ‘half,’ Mumbai Marathon, Bangalore 10k), he has diverted over $300,000 in the past years. As they say, go figure!
Yet a schism between the IAAF and road running is something that could have happened 30 years ago, during the period of transition from amateur to pro athletics, and coincidentally right at the beginning of my career in athletics writing.
Amateurism was becoming increasingly untenable, and road race promoters, many of whom (especially in the USA) had never experienced the Draconian ‘amateur’ laws (first one of which was, Don’t Get Caught), saw no reason why they couldn’t or shouldn’t pay athletes for their services, the more so since that ‘service’ involved not only racing 42k, but doing that sort of distance in training every day. It was what one of my smarter teenage contemporaries referred to as, ‘a professional approach in an amateur sport’.
One of the first pieces I ever wrote for Athletics Weekly was in mid-1981, when the Cascade Run-Off in the USA openly paid prize money. That made waves at the race I was attending that weekend, the Montreal Marathon, whose then organiser was to be one of the founders of the Association of International Marathons (AIMS), an organisation which could have led road running away from the IAAF, but was as unwilling then as it is toothless now.
That is partly due to the vigilance of then IAAF President, Primo Nebiolo who, no matter what else he might have been (just think Silvio Berlusconi) was certainly no mug. Nebiolo saw that AIMS could become powerful, so he ensured a regular financial contribution to the printing of the AIMS magazine, in return for which an IAAF observer was ‘placed’ on the AIMS committee. Everything was reported back, and little or nothing ever got done. Except meetings about meetings. Believe me, I know, I went to too many of them.
And when a properly commercial grouping like the World Marathons Majors – currently the marathons of Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York – was founded five years ago, just about the last thing that they thought was important was being a member of AIMS.
Nowadays everyone is aware that the marathon circuit is burgeoning, both at the elite and popular level. And the most interesting thing at the sharp end is the numbers of young (particularly) Kenyans who are coming directly into marathons nowadays, without ever having raced on the track. Such are the world’s top three men, Patrick Makau, Wilson Kipsang, and Geoffrey Mutai. And why would they bother, when there are limited opportunities at both 5000 and 10,000 metres on the track circuit, Diamond League or no? Whereas, there are hundreds of marathons worldwide, with much bigger rewards. And I would suggest that those marathons and their organisers are about as interested in being governed by the IAAF as the Marathon Majors are of being members of AIMS.
Time, so to speak, for a major change.
follow the links back to previous stories on this subject – Now The Bad News