Cel­e­brate our di­ver­sity

Athletics Weekly - - Letters -

TIM HUTCHINGS re­cently gave his views on the state of our sport and how fans need to be emo­tion­ally en­gaged for ath­let­ics to thrive, pick­ing out the African run­ning com­mu­nity and more or less blam­ing them for the cur­rent de­cline in in­ter­est (AW, May 31). His word­ing shows lit­tle re­spect for the hu­man be­ing ev­ery ath­lete is, but as I know Tim as a good friend on the circuit, I know it’s not racism that fu­els his rant.

Tim longs for ro­man­tic mem­o­ries of the 1980s when Europe was the cen­tre of the world and Bri­tain was the cen­tre of Europe. He echoes the sort of sen­ti­ment which made the lobby for Brexit suc­cess­ful and made Trump the US Pres­i­dent. Such sen­ti­ments have cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where fans ap­par­ently can’t cheer for six ath­letes from a dif­fer­ent back­ground, fight­ing it out in the fi­nal lap, but will in­stead be on their feet for a race won eas­ily by a lo­cal hero.

We have to ac­cept the world has changed and other coun­tries have de­vel­oped. Sport has be­come more ac­ces­si­ble for the poor and, yes, it seems they have tal­ent too.

In ten­nis 10 years ago there was a sim­i­lar dis­cus­sion when East­ern Euro­peans be­gan to dom­i­nate the women’s game. The ‘face­less Rus­sians’, it was said, would kill the sport. Al­though thank­fully they were never blocked from top-tier events and women’s ten­nis has sur­vived and thrived.

The state of ath­let­ics has noth­ing to do with which colour dom­i­nates. Tim looks pri­mar­ily at dis­tance run­ning, but peo­ple aren’t watch­ing field events or sprints in the same num­bers these days and the fields are much the same na­tion­al­i­ties as 20-30 years ago. Tim sim­pli­fies a com­plex sit­u­a­tion too much and seems to think dis­tance run­ning equals ath­let­ics.

He’s right that Africans could do more in sell­ing them­selves and the sport. Blam­ing the agents is fine but you can’t make agents re­spon­si­ble for a coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem or the cul­tural ef­fects on some­body’s per­son­al­ity.

Of course agents can do more, but please also tell the Euro­pean and Amer­i­can ath­letes to do more so they can keep up with the Africans. Or maybe, for both, it’s not as easy as it sounds?

While there’s no doubt that box­ing and UFC ben­e­fit from com­peti­tors over-hyp­ing fights, ath­let­ics can’t fol­low that ap­proach and ex­pect the same suc­cess. Star foot­ballers rarely say any­thing of value in the press, but they’re still the most-watched sports­peo­ple in the world.

Africans de­serve their spots among the sport’s top-tier based on their per­for­mances. Per­son­al­ity and pre­sen­ta­tion is nice, but the mo­ment their per­for­mance goes down it’s over for them in big races.

The mar­ket has al­ready fac­tored in that Africans’ ath­letic abil­i­ties are bet­ter than their pre­sen­ta­tion. For them, con­tracts and ap­pear­ance fees are much lower. So deny­ing them ac­cess to prize money in top events would be out­ra­geous.

Our sport isn’t in great shape, but scape­goat­ing isn’t the so­lu­tion. The di­ver­sity of events and peo­ple around the globe is its real trea­sure.

Michel Boet­ing, Nether­lands

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