Inside Athletics

Track and Field, the purest of all sports! But who cares about the athletes?

Genevieve LaCaze should not be going to the Olympics!

That got your interest! Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@crem_g) or Facebook would realise that this is definitely not my opinion, however it is the opinion of the Athletics Australia (AA) High Performance Manager and was the opinion of the Athletics Australia Board (including the President) when they first sat down to review the issue.

We now all know that upon reviewing their decision (based upon an outpouring of disgust from every media outlet, social media and the AOC) the Board of Athletics Australia then reversed this decision and placed Gen in the nominations to the AOC along with a complete review of the selection criteria which now gave athletes the most amount of time possible to record a qualifying performance.

All well and good, and great for Gen, but the one question that has been raised from this incident is; who was there representing the athletes and their interests at each step of the process?

Was it the High Performance Manager?

No, he has repeatedly stated throughout the year that his aims are to get the 6 potential medallists to the Games to enable him to reach the standards set in conjunction with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), to ensure that he meets his KPI’s and thus retain the all-important ASC funding for another 4 years.

Was the AA Board and President?

Some would say yes that this falls entirely at their feet, but no, the President backed the High Performance Manager views as being best for the sport as a whole, as he has continually done. Further, he represents a company that’s major source of income is the ASC, who have in large (in conjunction with AA and the AA HPM) only set targets for medals and top 8 finishes at major meets, as the measurements of success.

Was it the AA CEO?

No. His role is to support his staff in implementing the company’s policies and do the bidding of the AA President (see above), while also overseeing the finances, marketing and media relations of the sport as a whole.

Was it the role of the Athlete’s Commission?

Well this would seem to be the obvious choice as the voice of the athletes. However, given that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Commission (a body that is part of AA’s governance structure and whose key appointments require AA Board ratification) are both current athletes who rely on funding from AA and the ASC to continue their careers it would seem that they are in a position of compromise. In fact, the Chair of the Athletes Commission actually stated this when they decided not to sit on the Board meeting regarding selections (even though as the Chair of the Athletes commission they actually become a full fledge director of AA). This shows the conflict of interest that anyone would have when becoming the Chair of the Athletes Commission, because often the best interest of the athletes are in conflict with (or at least could be construed to be) the best interest of AA.

All of this then raises the critical question:

When decisions are being made at the highest level of Australian athletics, who is there to represent and lobby for the rights, needs and welfare of the athletes that make a living out of the sport and sacrifice so much in their attempt to represent their country?

Well, the simple answer to this is at the moment no one; athletes represent themselves and their own self-interests and fight battles one-on-one with AA. However, this is often a difficult process, with most athletes relying on AA for selection in teams and funding. And when athletes do ‘win’ these battles it is often a singular, personal victory, with other athletes destined to come along and fight the same battle again in the future (think Jeff Riseley in 2008 and Genevieve LaCaze in 2012).

But there is hope for athletes. A number of other sports have also been in similar positions to where we currently sit in athletics. Sports that have seen the rise of professionalism within their ranks and face problems with their National Bodies have dealt with these issues through the support and formation of Athlete or Player Associations that are independent from the national body and act only for the interests of the professional athletes that they represent. These associations, while being separate to the National Body and representing the interests and welfare of the players or athletes (their members), also work in conjunction with the National Body, particularly to grow the commercial capacity and revenue to both parties. This is often through a negotiated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This recognition by the national body is important as any association which seeks to represent the athletes or players of that sport must work within the constraints of that sport and work with the support of the National body.

So why doesn’t Athletics have one of these Player Associations?

To put it in simple terms: because one has never been formed. But there isn’t anything that prevents one being formed.

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