Track and Field: It's a Snail's Race to Fill the Sport's Top Jobs

Red ShannonFeatured Columnist IDecember 14, 2016

Something's not right here.

There are two fabulous high-profile job openings available at the highest levels of our sport and the best-qualified, most respected candidates are running—not walking—to the nearest exits.

Sure, track and field, as a spectator sport (especially in America) presents some challenges. The sport is struggling to keep up with football, basketball and baseball on the domestic front—and to a lesser degree tennis, motorsports and soccer on the global scene.

But consider the opportunities. The dreaded quadrennial off-year of 2010 (no world championships or Olympics) is behind us. The sport's crown jewel, the Summer Olympics, now looms in 2012. And the World Championships are right around the corner in August.

With the American collegiate season about to peak in a matter of days, the natural build-up to London 2012 will then remain on a steady ascent for well over a year into the future. It's a promoter's dream. And with the lockout-sickened fan bases of the NFL and the NBA clamoring for action, we have one sumptuous spread just waiting for the right opportunistic customer.

But apparently no one has the appetite.

Job Opening No. 1: President, IAAF

The sport's highest governing authority, the International Association of Athletics Federations, will be holding elections this August. The current president, Lamine Diack, is running unopposed.

Diack would appear to be in a weakened and beatable position after the IAAF's alleged financial crisis and the mishandling of the 11-month-long gender verification testing of world 800m champion Caster Semenya. Then consider Diack's recent statements which cast serious doubt on his leadership.

Yet the two men once considered most qualified to challenge Diack—Olympic 1500m great Sebastian Coe and pole vault world record-holder Sergey Bubka—have suddenly decided to remain in their supporting roles within the IAAF structure.

Job Opening No. 2: CEO, USATF

Presiding over the slow demise of track and field in America (at least among casual fans), the USATF is generally seen as being little more than functional. The void in passion and guidance at the highest level of American track has been deafening. The USATF fairly screams for a leader.

The position of CEO, currently vacant after last year's firing of Doug Logan, would seem to be the ideal launching point for an energetic, innovative and influential advocate of the sport.

However, judging from the lengthy vacancy, any candidates who might meet the proper criteria have apparently been staying away in droves. The one person mentioned with any seriousness, Vin Lananna of the University of Oregon (who reeks with qualification), has politely said, "Thanks...but no thanks."

It should be noted that Lananna already plays a very functional and influential role at Oregon and is a fixture at Hayward Field.

So why, even considering the obstacles and challenges, would anyone so qualified, so loyal and dedicated to the sport, and with just an ounce of ambition, turn their nose up at such a delectable setting placed before them?

Perhaps they sense the fare is tainted.

I suspect politics, with its bitter aftertaste and nauseous side effects is what deters these potential candidates. If true, that in itself says something about the high standards and moral leadership of those hesitant to indulge.

Yes, I believe the reluctance of good people to step forward is based on an understanding of human nature and of the nature of politics—which can be a deadly combination. The fear that somewhere along the line, in the course of genuine bargaining, an offer will be made, a soul will be bought and paid for, and negotiations will have devolved into political prostitution.

And we have no further to look for confirmation of those fears than the hallowed halls of civil government.

Good people, with high ideals and hopes for change enter the political fray only to be swallowed up in the poisonous atmosphere of power, greed and corruption. And the common people are left holding the bag while their leader sinks in popularity to a level somewhere below that of tax collector and/or undertaker.

Maybe what we're looking for in a track and field leader is more a salesman than a politician. A politician, at best, is most interested in getting and keeping power. On the other hand, the best kind of salesman is one who is interested in, and believes in his product. He promotes it as an outflow of his passion for it.

No shady deals or back-room favors are required to make a sale. The good salesman knows that if given a fair trial, his product will virtually sell itself. The most difficult part of his job is getting his product in the public's eye. From there, it's hotcakes.

Most of us already know our sport is a great product. It only needs individuals in high places committed to making it easily accessible to the people. It would seem that now is the perfect time to strike.

In the case of the IAAF, unless some brave soul steps up soon, we're pretty much stuck with a politician for another four years.

As for the USATF opening, we can only hope the selection team and board members get it right this time.

Rojoquote - from Ronald Reagan:

"It has been said that politics is the second-oldest profession. I have found that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."