What's happening at USATF?
by on Wednesday, March 19, 2014  (8 comments)

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I've been wondering for over a week what happened in the meeting between USATF and TFAA to discuss the disqualifications at the USATF Indoor Nationals meet. After an initial announcement that there was going to be a meeting between USATF and the TFAA to discuss procedures and possibly push for some form of athlete representative overview/review of the process, there became nothing but a lot of silence.

It turns out I wasn't the only one wondering what happened. Lucky for me, Nobby Hashizume did the digging to find out what happened as you can see at his post. It turns out the meeting was cancelled. As for who decided to cancel it and why, that doesn't seem to be coming out.

In the meantime, fortunately, Gabe Grunewald got her national championship and her chance to run at Worlds. So all is good, right? Well, no. We still don't know how all that happened was allowed to happen. There is no evidence that this will be prevented from happening in the future.

Plus, Andrew Bumbalough is still disqualified. His disqualification, if possible, is even more egregious than Grunewald's. First, much like Grunewald, the "incident" that resulted in the disqualification doesn't seem worthy of such treatment. It was another instance of incidental contact that is normal when racing indoors. Second, Bumbalough wasn't even part of the "incident". It was another runner!

Some might say it doesn't matter. He didn't win the race. He wasn't in a Worlds qualifying position. Still, it matters. If for no other reason than he was disqualified when he did nothing wrong and there was conclusive evidence of this, the disqualification should have been overturned. Even if 8th place doesn't seem like a big deal, we don't know how his sponsor contract(s) is/are structured. Sometimes runners get bonuses for officially competing at national championship meets. Sometimes they get bonuses for things like top 10 finishes. Heck, if nothing else, he should have the personal satisfaction of having the officially recognized 8th place finish.

Most importantly, though, the fact that even this modest meeting didn't happen suggests USATF is going to just sweep this incident under the rug. Nobody cares, it didn't happen, nothing is going to change. Is this what we want to come of this ugly incident?

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8 comments
Andrew A.

I tweeted something out a week after U.S. Indoors asking a handful of prominent principals what progress had been made on gaining transparency for those situations. Nothing has happened and just like with the 2008 OT when Adam Goucher got a magical elevator ride into the 5000m past faster qualifiers on the provisional list and at the 2012 OT with the dead heat clusterf___ in the women's 100m, a few weeks pass and everybody -- including the running media that should represent the athlete's best interests -- forgets about it and it fades into hazy memory until the next incident invariably occurs. The athletes themselves are still in a position of relative weakness, as are their coaches (not named Alberto Salazar) - when you realize the organization has scant integrity, you also have to figure that pushing an agenda that makes the organization and individuals within it potentially look bad could form a bias that could arbitrarily come back to bite. Mainstream running media's sole role anymore, apparently, is to cover what is happening now and move past controversy that finds no quick resolution. I know someone who was a witness to some of the stuff in Albuquerque and even he, citing his own history of political struggles with the federation back in his homeland, seemed fatigued with the mess. I have said it before, unless and until the athletes truly unionize to bargain collectively or at least play a hand in forming a true pro league (rather than an amateur sports federation masquerading as something other than that), they will always tacitly cede power to USATF. And you know, it would not surprise me at all if we learned that Nike realized that Alberto's tantrum(s) in Albuquerque had caused a lot of negative press and blowback and thus had Hasay withdraw the protest and take the fall as if it were her decision. I doubt Hasay wanted to lodge the protest in the first place, yet I also doubt she would stand up to Salazar and his posse.

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Ryan

I received a message this morning on Twitter from Dennis Barker, Gabe Grunewald's coach. I asked for and received permission to share what he updated me with here.

Barker is still involved in this. He says he's been urging the TFAA/USATF dialog behind the scenes and sent his own suggestions to USATF.

He also says it will be the TFAA and fans that will make change happen but I don't think we should overlook his role in keeping the issue up. I think those of us who want to see change owe him a debt of gratitude.

However, we also have a responsibility. Part of my interest in posting this is to keep it in the public eye. Andrew, as you mention, the media are moving too quickly on to other stories and completely forgetting this one. Where are the stories of this? Where is the interest in what's going on? Where is the continued demand for change? Simply put, where is the follow-up?

Andrew, I agree with you that the TFAA only holds so much power but it's the best avenue for change we have at this point. If the public can keep the pressure on USATF (a big if based on what I'm seeing now) then they might feel the pressure to at least sit down and listen to the TFAA, which is the first step.

As for Hasay and her role in this, I've stated privately to a few people that I doubt she was in favor of Salazar's protests in the first place and I do think she was pressured to become the sacrificial lamb when Nike and USATF realized the damage that was being done. In my opinion, she's also a victim in this.

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Andrew A.

Good to know that Barker continues the fight, I agree with you. Hope he has the energy to keep it up in the face of the 800 lb. gorilla that is USATF and its inertia. As a rule, the main goal of people who have worked to achieve power within a governing organization is to maintain that power.

TFAA has great ideals yet needs more powerful partnerships to gain leverage with USATF. Being the best avenue doesn't mean it has a realistic shot at effective negotiations, though I'll be glad to be proved wrong there.

And back to the mainstream running media, there is simply no (recent) tradition of investigative journalism. Scott Douglas and Phil Hersh have done well in the past to call issues into question and bring them to the fore, yet no doubt editorial directive has pulled them away from those issues. Even Letsrun, which seemingly should be more independent, succumbs to amnesia in the interest of drawing eyes in numbers.

Like I (and others) have said, the answer does not lie with USATF in its current form of serving too broad of a swath of sport. It's time to look to the formation of a pro league that carries the sport beyond the petty fiefdom of inept, entitled, integrity-lacking volunteers and administrators.

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Ryan

Agreed. I hope he can keep up the good fight. It does sound like he is engaged.

I understand that the TFAA isn't everything but it's a lot more than there was a few years ago and, as of now, it's our best hope. Of course, their power is limited so it's mostly about making noise until those at USATF are uncomfortable but maybe, hopefully, that can work. It only works, though, if those of us who care also keep making noise. That's part of the reason I wanted to post this follow-up.

As for the media, I can't speak for the motivations of others. LetsRun seems to selectively engage, mostly at times when the subjects are prime to draw lots of attention. Sadly, that means this topic is no longer of concern over there. As for the others, outside of Ben Rosario's podcast, I haven't heard a whole lot on this topic in the media. I'm doing what I can hear but I realize the reach of HillRunner.com isn't exactly far and wide.

I do think the sport would be well served by blowing up USATF and getting (at least) two governing organizations out of the wreckage. One needs to be focused on the pros and running the sport like a professional league. You don't see the NFL or MLB trying to run everything from the pros to the "weekend warriors" of their sport to kids programs and everything in between. There are separate organizations to govern those things.

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Andrew A.

I meant to add that I was heartened to see the comment below the Lydiard Foundation piece was pretty much the same as I have thought and stated.

USATF (like TAC and AAU before it) exists primarily to select Olympic teams, that is its prime directive per its charter c/o the Amateur Sports Act. Serving development (youth, juniors) is also related to that, which makes sense. Extending itself to govern masters, road racing, and even pro level track outside of the OT is burdensome and, as we can see, dysfunctional. USATF would have to come up with an entirely new charter to oversee a pro track league/tour and I doubt that the USOC would be good with that. It has to be like the division between NBA and USA Basketball or MLS and US Soccer, a new and distinctly different entity that creates pro track/running league/tour(s) which USATF plays zero role in administering. Sort of like the PGA/LPGA or ATP. See also: http://americantrackleague.com and http://bringbackthemile.com/tour.

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Ryan

I definitely would support the structure you define. I realize USATF is essentially an Olympic team selection committee. I could see an argument for overseeing pro track but I do think there is some conflict of interest there. As I think about it, the structure you mention with the division between the NBA and USA Basketball seems like one that has worked and should be looked at as a successful model.

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