Inside Athletics

Athletics is about athletes

The events of the past few days makes me think that it is necessary for our sport to revisit some fundamental concepts. For me, the most fundamental is that athletics is about athletes.

There are of course others who play important parts in the life of the sport: coaches, officials, supporters and administrators to name a few. Important as they all are in sharing custodianship of the sport with athletes, these roles fundamentally exist to support the interests of athletes.

Subsequently, the interests of athletes should always be the primary consideration in decisions within the sport. Tragically, Athletics Australia's Board's initial decision not to select Genevieve LaCaze for the London Olympics, and particularly the sentiments of High Performance Manager Eric Hollingsworth, displayed an underlying cultural issue in their mentality, that the interests of athletes are not their primary considerations (it should be noted that AA's Board were not of one mind in the decision, and that two directors advocated for and voted to select LaCaze).

The LaCaze incident brought to the fore the flaws in Athletics Australia's approach to 'raising the bar' for the sport: they have sought to do so by sacrificing the interests of athletes. This ranges from setting a selection policy designed to not select all of the nation's world class athletes, not providing athletes with the largest qualifying window of opportunity, and as it appears from Hollingsworth's recent comments and those earlier in the year prior to the selection trials when he stated he had almost had all that he needed already on the team, focusing on short term KPI's and bureaucracy ahead of development of the sport's future.

It is neither necessary, nor sufficient, nor justified, for Athletics Australia to seek to raise the standard of performance in the sport by curtailing the opportunities of any athlete. Athletics is about athletes, and it is nonsensical to damage the essence of something in order to improve it.

Only advocacy from the Australian Olympic Committee, media attention and overwhelming support from the athletics community, caused the LaCaze decision to be reversed. All three groups understand that athletics is about athletes, and it leaves me hopeful about the future of our sport. But it will require leadership.

Leadership is about uniting people behind a common vision, and empowering them to play their part in achieving it. Put politely, there is significant room for improvement in Athletics Australia's leadership. And what drives leadership is shared values; it is very clear that those held by the athletics community differ from those of Athletics Australia.

Values are paramount, both to individuals, and also to organisations. Successful organisations have a stated set of core corporate values that guide their conduct. Athletics Australia don't, and by recent behaviour it appears they operate in an abyss. I'd suggest that the values that the athletics community universally buy into, and that were certainly evident during the robust support for LaCaze, are values very closely tied to those of the Olympic Games, where success is pursued, celebrated and honoured, but valued especially because it is achieved in a spirit of fair play, while valuing the efforts of all, for the glory of sport.

As seen over recent days, the athletics community is a powerful force when united, and if Athletics Australia embraces the values held by those who they gain their representative mandate from, our sport can again be great. However, to embrace these values, shape vision with them and provide true leadership to bring that vision to fruition it will require change in some personnel in both governance and management roles at AA. Only then will Athletics Australia be in a position to be an organisation worthy of its name: an organisation that understands that athletics is about athletes.