Maybe I am a pessimist, but I strongly get the impression that track and field is in big trouble. “ The mother of all sports” is on the way out. I have spent 30 years in this sport and have experienced the decline in popularity, the empty seats in the stadiums, the competitions that disappear from the calendar, the withdrawal of main sponsors, and the decreasing numbers of track athlete’s participation in national championships.
Athletics however is big, like a dinosaur, so it’s downfall is slow, but steady.
A few possible reasons for this downfall are:
It’s a long-term sports from the moment you pick up a shot, it’s 10 years before you become a champion, if you ever will be, since the sports is global and old and the long-term evolution led to an extremely high level of competition. Overnight success is really exceptional. But nowadays we want instant success and immediate results. Long-term goals and a vision that comes with it are things from the past.
There are many other new, exciting and more interesting sports like team sports, there is always a fun factors , no matter how low the level. Playing soccer with your friends in the park, you can do that for hours and in the end you forget the score. But very few people do shot put of long-jump for the intrinsic fun of it. Fun in athletics is pretty much related to performance, not only relative to others, throwing or jumping further, or running faster, but also to your own performance. Try and see the fun of having no measurable improvement year after year, especially when you are young. (Master athletes can and have to deal with that). Track and field is one of the classic Olympic sports, like weightlifting, gymnastics, swimming, equestrian, etc. And many new competing sports have surfaced the last decades, like wind-surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, drawing younger athletes And also soccer has become globally popular, attracting many potential good athletes.
Athletics also has always been misused as political instrument , since it consists of many sports, so many medals can be won. The medal count makes it interesting for increasing the medal score at the Olympics to increase national pride, for what that is worth.
And athletics has been misused as a gigantic money-printing machine for e.g. the IAAF and the IOC. Unfortunately a lot of that money ended up in the deep pockets of the leaders, managers and officials of these organization themselves, They were supposed to represent the athletes and to guard their rights and shares of that financial interest , but the harsh reality is that they often only took care of their own interests.
The last couple of months, the general public became very much aware that the these so-called guardians of ethics, norms, values, fair-play, etc. are in some cases no more than ordinary thieves, cheaters, and liars. One of the most cynical recent events was the staging of the first World Summit of Ethics in Sports, September 19, 2014, at the Head Quarters of FIFA, with a welcome message of Mr. Sepp Blatter. I mean, can it get more cynical than that?
In recent days a second TV-documentary of the Germany TV channel ARD by Hajo Seppelt, who in the first broadcast exposed the relationship between doping, the Russian Track and Field Federation and the IAAF, now focused on the same relationship in Kenia, also exposing the transfer of enormous sums of money coming from Nike, almost straight into the personal pockets of the board members of the Athletics Kenya. He also got his hands on the database of IAAF blood tests, showing that many athletes had abnormal blood values, under which many world class athletes. which immediately are regarded as being suspect by ignorant journalists and the general public.
The IAAF is not even able to secure the private and confidential data of its athletes as legally requested. I bet you also would not like your medical data e.g. blood tests, available to the general public.
Now, logic gives us three options.
Either, athletes tested positive indeed, but were not penalized, that is. their positive tests were kept under the table or, as the first broadcast showed, bought off by athletes who had to pay a enormous sum to officials of their federation and the IAAF, for their positive tests to disappear. Which means the doping system is thoroughly corrupt.
Or: despite the enormous amount of money and effort spent on doping-test sand anti-doping organizations, it all was wasted money since the many suspected tests were not adequate enough to lead to penalties. Which comes down to: the anti-doping-system is incompetent and incapable to solve the issue, contrary to what they state and what they get paid for.
Or: the abnormal blood test were not the result of doping, since genetic abnormalities, diseases or altitude training and may have led to these results. Which means that the doping problem in track and field is grossly exaggerated.
But unfortunately the damage has been done, more that every the general public and the sponsors will look upon athletics as a systematically doping-riddled sports. Will all of this help to “clean up” the sport? Absolutely because less kids and their parents will be inclined to start participating in athletics, an less participants means less drug use in absolute sense. It’s like having a mouse in your house, you can get rid of it by burning your house down: problem solved.
Somehow, for the sake of track and field , I hope he mother of all sports only will suffer from a temporary decline in popularity, but will survive the crisis after drastic changes have taken place at many levels. This will take some time and history teaches us that the chance of this happening is very slim.
Too bad for a wonderful sport.