Friday, April 14, 2017

Commentary: Show Me the Money?

There has been plenty of conversation recently about when, not if, watching sport in the US will become predominantly  "pay per view."  For running and track and field that time is now as NBC is offering a $69.99 "pass" to watch these sports on all things digital.  

As Alan Abrahamson writes HERE: "This is the future, people. You want it? Here it is:The Boston Marathon (this weekend). The London Marathon. The Berlin and Amsterdam Marathons. The IAAF World Relays from the Bahamas (next weekend). The highest profile USATF events, including USA vs. the world at the Penn Relays. The Drake Relays. The Pre Classic. The USA Outdoor Championships. All 14 Diamond League stops. All 10 days of the IAAF world championships from London."

This is the "spoils" of NBC's purchase of the rights to "broadcast" these events.  NBC hopes to recoup the money they have spent on these rights despite the fact that many die hard track fans are probably tearing their hair out now as they view the broadcasts the network has delivered on US track & field and marathons as wanting.  The announcers do not measure up to their standards and events that last  longer than four minutes get chopped up and much of the strategy, tension, and drama of the long distance and field events are  reduced to a summary and an interview with the winners.  

Where is Carrie Tollefson when you need her?

More important perhaps is what is done with all the money being generated by the sports and the efforts of the athletes who perform on the Athletics "stage."  Nicole Sapstead the CEO of UKAD, the UK's version of USADA, proposed this week something that has also been advocated as necessary for sport. Stopping the spread of doping, the "addiction"of modern sport.  

WADA, UKAD, USADA and others have been noting for decades the lack of adequate financial support for the agencies tasked with attempting to snuff doping out of sports. Their argument being that some of the billions of dollars collected by those who get paid  for the rights and those who profit from the broadcast of these events should allocate some of that money in an attempt to give the anti-doping agencies a fighting chance of attacking the problem.

The seemingly never ending doping scandals have damaged sport by supporting the dopers sales pitch that "everybody is doing it(doping)."  Why not spend some of that sports generated money to fighting doping?  Deliver "clean"sports to their "fans" so that parents won't have to worry about their children buying into the belief that elite athletes have to dope to rise to the top in their respective sport?

Most elite athletes are livid that not enough of the revenues generated by them are devoted to adequately policing the problem.  The unsavory rift between the IOC and WADA has illustrated that those with the money(IOC) are very reluctant to spend it on what they acknowledge is a threat to their product.  The IOC has always treated doping as a public relations problem.  The result being that doping has expanded throughout all sport and the scandals continue as the depth of this problem has become a rapidly expanding plague.

If we want sports to have the role for which it was intended, not the freak show of pharmacological battles many believe they have become. Those organizations who have been created to fight doping need more financial support.  Lots more. 

High level sport has become an entertainment product that is no longer just entertaining. Do we encourage the win at all costs philosophy  promoted by the countries who win the most medals?  Or look the other way as professional teams push their expanding revenues for the owners by winning games and championships with athletes who are bigger, faster, and stronger.

Elite sport has become all about money.  The money paid to sell the product, be it professional or Olympic sports.  The sports where a coach can go from the NFL to collegiate sport and get a pay raise in his multi-million dollar contract.  For highly talented high school athletes there awaits a college scholarship that is, in essence, a lucrative job that pays the bills for their often six figure college costs.  It's safe to say that the benefits of being a top of the podium athlete are financially greater than ever.  

Sports aren't about physical education any more.  They're entertainment, a revenue source for the athletically gifted.  With the stakes so high the temptation to cheat to get ahead, like the money involved, have escalated.  The motto is no longer the Olympic quest of higher, faster, stronger, but rather "show me the money."

The bright side to this is that the vast majority of athletes are not Olympic caliber or are on the "gravey train" of the financial rewards there for the potential champions.  Most enjoy the physical benefits, not the monetary rewards.  The social experience of working hard with like minded teammates to test one's limits in a game or in a race.  Pushing each other to discover what you can train your mind and body to accomplish. They see sports as uplifting, rather than corrupting.  

Thus the challenge is to not reward those who will do anything to "win."  Defeating an opponent is not the ideal of sport it is the self discovery of how one can get the most out of themselves.  A true athlete wants to win, yes, but not at all costs.  Morality and ethics are part of the equasion .I've always defined doping as individuals striving to be the best they could be who give in to the temptation to sink to whatever level necessary in order to "succeed."

As the doping scandals illustrate success is measured in terms of the financial, social, often fake accomplishments.  Australian distance runner Ron Clarke said it best when he noted that it wasn't a victory if you beat someone who wasn't at his best.  He said he wanted his opponents to be the best they could be when he raced them.  Winning was beating an opponent at his best.  Two men testing themselves at the top of their game.  

Under those conditions taking a pill that gave you an advantage was not winning.  You didn't win, the pill did.   

A famous quote said to be from Earl Warren, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, was: “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures”

Not any more.----by Jim Ferstle

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