It has come to track and field athletes’ attention that during all those gutting workouts, dark-thirty in the morning, when the rent was due and cupboards bare, and it seemed like no one had their back—they were right. No one had their back. While they were pounding out repeat 1000s, the organizations in charge of the sport—the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and our own red, white, and corrupt branch, USA Track & Field (USATF)—were busy taking care of themselves, shaking down bribes for new houses, extravagant trips, nice hotels and high living, athletes be damned.
Former U.S. 5,000 meter champion Lauren Fleshman addressed one of the bigger issues head-on in a blog post, which went a long way towards explaining the wolf-in-the-chicken-coop relationship between athletes, the USATF, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and the IAAF. The out-spoken Fleshman explained why athletes are fairly silent on doping:
We assume things are taken care of by the powers that be. After all, we have to report every hour of every day of our lives to anti doping agencies who can show up at any moment unannounced to take our blood and urine, so surely they must have this under control. Believing otherwise makes the daily violations of privacy and loss of freedom we tolerate in the name of clean sport unfathomable.
But a prime example of how out-of-control the organizations that run track and field have been is Athletics Kenya. Though they have received large sums of money from Nike for “development,” (or maybe because they’ve received large sums of money from Nike for “development”), they have claimed to be unable to afford setting up their own drug testing agency. Until last month, what little drug testing was done in Kenya was accomplished by a team of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) employees helicoptering in for surprise raids. This needle-in-a-haystack method somehow managed to net marathoner Rita Jeptoo, as the dopers seem to have gotten a bit careless.
Fleshman goes on to write that observers might assume, wrongly, that top athletes understand physiology, pharmacology, and what other training groups are doing. “We learn early that if we say something outside of our area of expertise, and it isn’t 100% full proof and inarguable, we get slammed and shamed. Most of you want us to shut up and run,” writes Fleshman.
But as the last few months of scandal have shown us, nobody—athletes, former athletes, coaches, the leaders of the IAAF and USATF—knows exactly what is going on in the sport. It can be impossible to tell willfull ignorance apart from sport-wide opacity. It is entirely possible, for instance, that Lord Seb Coe, the head of the IAAF, sat on his thumbs for seven years as the vice-president of the IAAF and didn’t know about the massive bribes that president Lamine Diack was exacting. It’d be difficult to maintain that level of ignorance, but it’s possible, because the IAAF promotes secrecy and lack of communication.
No one knows what’s going on at WADA, or the Nike Oregon Project, or even how that mofo keeps winning the local 5k. No one knows Galen Rupp’s salary, nor how much appearance money Mo Farah got for running the London Marathon, nor how to apply for a U.S. team coaching position. Everything is rumor, and you look like a poor sport and a fool if you spout off about rumors.
Finally, Fleshman writes about the crazy-pills world of the USATF, wherein they so brazenly hire dopers as coaches, play off their most egregious farts as fragrant perfume, and shame athletes who didn’t congratulate ‘roided out Dennis Mitchell—who once claimed his elevated testosterone levels were due to “five bottles of beer and sex with his wife at least four times” because “it was her birthday, the lady deserved a treat”—on securing another USATF position.
For example, last year USATF members voted 392 to 70 to reinstate Bob Hersh as the U.S. rep to IAAF. But the USATF board paid no attention to that vote and installed Stephanie Hightower instead. As usual, the athletes were left wondering if they’d taken crazy pills: Wait, we didn’t vote for her, did we? You’re not a team player, you’re a bitch or a washed up complainer if you don’t say the emperor’s new clothes are lovely.
While IAAF president Seb Coe is being grilled by French investigators and parliament about bribery and money laundering in the global organization, the Orange County Register’s Scott Reid did a thorough job explaining how the global business model works at the USATF branch office. Reid pointed to a recent example: USATF president Stephanie Hightower naming her good friend Robin Brown-Beamon to the organization’s Law & Legislation Committee.
It was a controversial assignment, to say the least, because seven months ago Brown-Beamon was suspended from her position as national athletics chair at the Amateur Athletics Union for a, “consistent, intentional, knowing, self-serving [pattern] of code violations.” Reid reports that these code violations included “extravagant expenditures,” like paying Hightower a $3,000 appearance fee to show up at a “Track Divas” event in Hawaii.
The amount of brazen corruption is staggering. According to the confidential AAU documents—including reports, memos, letters, and emails—that Reid obtained, Brown-Beamon’s lavish spending reduced the AAU Athletics Committee bank account from $200,000 to a negative $62,000. While she insisted that money went to athletes, records show otherwise. At this past summer’s World Youth Championships in Colombia (where she flew and stayed on AAU’s dime), she threatened to withhold the young athlete’s per diems because she told them they didn’t deserve them.
Brown-Beamon’s response to the long list of nasty allegations and subsequent forced removal?
“Yeah, I’m suspended but who cares? I don’t even want to be a member of AAU,” Brown-Beamon said. “Just because the AAU suspended me doesn’t mean it’s true. A court of law will decide real soon whether it’s true. I don’t have to prove anything. They have to prove it. What happened at the AAU has nothing to do with my career with USA Track & Field.”
To appoint Brown-Beamon to the Law & Legislation Committee in the first place, Hightower had to remove long-standing member Tim Baker. But that was easy: she just emailed him and said he was out. Baker, who had served the AAU for 34 years, had this to say about his replacement: “Robin Beamon has a different view of law and legislation than I do. And there’s one major difference between us: I’ve never been (accused) of stealing money and she has.”
USATF insiders jet to every major running event—marathons in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles—staying at four-star hotels for five or six days, wining and dining at the USATF trough. Most of the athletes who are actually competing in these races stay four to a room at the local Best Western, sucking up when they see their organization’s top brass throwing back at the bar lest they not get that free race entry next year.
The debauchery in track and field’s executive officers has to stop, if for no other reason than the executives are irrelevant and embarrassing. Athletes have been doing the heavy lifting in track and field on their own for decades. They’re putting in the miles, they’re the ones collapsing, spent, at the finish line. They’re the ones fans came out to see. It’s time they finally got the keys to the executive restroom.
Photo via Getty