Celebrate our diversity
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