Many people are familiar with the sport side of track and field. In fact, this being an Olympic year, exposure and interests is only sure to grow and peak. However, something that many people may not be familiar with is the business side of track and field, the part away from the track. I know when I came to my first annual meeting in 2005, I didn’t understand anything. It seemed to hover around almost complete chaos! There were meetings, committees, people gathering in almost every room and corner of the hotel trying to find a way in which they believed to move the sport forward.
I learned about the different components of USATF. There was the side I was familiar with, the elite athletes, our competitions, but there was so much more such as youth athletes, masters, disabled, officials, associations, coaches, sponsors there were places where rules were put in place and voted, laws passed, decisions on how we spent our funding to where we would have our next championships. This is my 7th annual meeting and I still am learning something new every year and trying to navigate myself through the different components.
So on to my review and thoughts of the annual meeting
At this meeting there was an open forum like we’ve never had. We had speakers for the USATF, IAAF, and our major sponsors together in a room for an open discussion. Things were tense from the beginning to say the least where we were told of the importance and warned of delicate nature of the meeting. The biggest issue on the table was our uniforms and our rights to do what we want with them and our bodies during meets. I know there’s been a lot of controversy lately with Nick Simmons and Lauren Fleshman, but this is something that has been nagging at our sport for years.
The problem we have as athletes is there are a lot of us representing a very large sport and we all have wants and needs and something to say. So, we started by listening to the panel of guests first and learned why there are exclusivity on a shoe companies uniform, we heard from meet directors about the state of our sport (which spoke about meets being canceled all over Europe), we heard from IAAF about a new uniform change, and we heard from track and field that simply said they enforce IAAF rules when they don’t need to and it was an unwritten policy not a rule basically.
As the athletes start to ask questions, there are some who are very personal, some whose feelings were hurt by the discussion, some who were angry and obviously had an agenda, some who were passionate about seeing positive change, some who had questions not about handouts and wanting more but how we in that room could grow the sport. About 10 minutes into the discussion, it was discovered it was being streamed online and all hell broke loose as people were getting up and leaving, people asked/ made to leave, people yelling at one another and then we closed the doors and had a closed meeting. However, there were those who came back to the meeting and it resumed.
While some good things were being said and good questions asked, I didn’t feel like we got good enough answers about how to change the model. If we’re losing meets and barely surviving on funding, why are we doing the same old things? How can we turn the number one participated sport in the world into more of a media base? Why are there stock models used in advertising when we could be used? What is track and field doing to help promote us? IAAF? Sponsors?
Overall, I think the meeting would have been more productive with a smaller base and more thought out questions. Instead of someone coming on the mic to say his feelings are hurt, we needed focus. It may be an opportunity we don’t have again. However, the IAAF is allowing private sponsors to be shown on the right shoulder during competitions, so as long as you don’t have an exclusivity deal, you can take advantage of that. Also, the athlete resolution has passed that at domestic meets there are no more sponsorship or size restrictions for our uniforms!!! So, um, which sponsor out there would like to step up and sponsor the world’s favorite hammer thrower?!?
Another positive change we saw was the athlete representation in meetings that directly affect us. Like I said, track and field is made up of a lot of entities and while everyone wants to see the sport progress and succeed, everyone has a different idea on how to do that. Right now, the athletes have 20% attendance during the different meetings like development, rules, laws, association, coaches, officials, youth, masters etc. So when there are changes within this part of the organization, we can make sure our voice is heard. However, we felt it was important to have an even stronger voice in the areas that affected us the most especially when money and teams were involved. So we are happy to announce the AAC now has 25% voting in key meetings with the help of key support within the organization such as the youth group, etc.!
Some other highlight from our AAC meetings were the addition of another Tier (Tier 4) to help additional athletes with funding this year. Some tips for athletes. 1. Renew your USATF membership Many people don’t know that having that is your accident insurance so if you get hurt training or competing you will pay a small fee and the rest of covered! 2. There are many resources on the usatf.org website. visit it. There is info on USADA, funding, teams, jobs, grants, etc. 3. Athletes need to sign up for the TFAA, our athlete union if you want to see additional positive growth in our sport!
Types of Attendees:
As an event leader, I want to see my event well represented to make sure our voice is heard and to grow my sport. I am constantly trying to encourage us..err.. veterans as well as new faces or “rookies” coming up to learn about and personally invest in their sport. I truly believe that is only way to grow our sport is to start at the roots with understanding how and why decisions are made.
So at our annual meetings you see a certain mix of athletes/attendees. There are the people who have been coming for a while and this sport is their passion. You can see it in the meetings, their questions, comments, hear the side conversations in hallways and elevators. They teem with ideas and solutions to grow our sport, move it forward either in parts or in whole. These attendees you see in the meetings whether they be athletes, parents, coaches, associations, committees, board members, volunteers are the pulse that runs our sport.
We get a few types of new attendees I’ve observed. There are the new people who are curious and uncertain. They can easily get overwhelmed with the sheer information and vast size of the organization. I know from experience how that can be. These new faces either find their niche, choose to come another year to try to understand a little better or get burned out feeling helpless, apathetic, or useless and don’t come again.
There are also those who come to the annual meeting because of a personal goal, either something has happened to them or they want something to happen for them and have heard the annual meeting is where change is initiated. You see them show up guns blazing and then if nothing happens or it doesn’t happen fast enough many of them never come again.
However, things are changing, and there was evidence of that this weekend with the athletes voice having an even stronger presence in our sport and the allowance of us to find additional sponsorship and represent them. However, it’s not all about this level of making the change, we need to help facilitate it where we are. We need to be out in communities representing our sport, giving people a reason to care about us, we need to take advantage of different media platforms to grow our sport, and on top of that we need to be successful. That doesn’t always mean breaking world records, but it does mean we need to stop saying meets are terrible and we did bad even when we won… We can control perception of ourselves and our sport.
We Are Track and Field, so the success lies on everyone’s shoulders… even those who are behind the scenes like we see at the annual meetings. Great job guys!