Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The IAAF has no idea what it's talking about

Whatever success the sport of track and field achieves and whatever popularity it enjoys is likely in spite of the IAAF, which is about as useful as the UN in promoting or managing the sport. Watching the utter aloofness of the IAAF, which is quite possibly one of the poorest sources of information about the sport, and does virtually nothing to promote it. This is significant for a sport that's dying in front of us who still care about it.

If you watch any of the World Championships in Daegu, you would notice that the stands are almost always empty. Even on Sunday night, with Usain Bolt scheduled to run the final of the men's 100, the stands seemed about half full. Tonight, they were mostly empty for the men's 400 and the two finals that preceded it. The website, however, will tell you that tickets are sold out.

Part of the problem is putting the championships in Daegu, one of three cities which was willing to put in a bid for the event (Moscow and Brisbane were the others). Daegu is at best the third choice for a major event in Korea. I can't think of any Korean who would go there willingly. While many people go there, it's to visit family or to work there.

I don't deny that Korea does a good job of organizing and hosting such events, but there is almost no public interest here in track and field, and what little interest there could be is extinguished by the fact that there is not a single noteworthy Korean competing at these championships.

This explains why someone would go so far as to spend money on these tickets and stay home, or why the local rights owner, KBS, feels that infomercials outdraw the world's third or fourth-biggest sporting event. To be fair, of course, track has a very low profile in just about the entire world; it gets to be one of the biggest sporting events in the world because just about anyone can do it and because of the diversity of competitions.

At any rate, what sparked this diatribe against the IAAF is this sentence from its website about the men's marathon here on Sunday:

The 35-year-old.(sic) proving age isn't a barrier even at this distance. mastered South Korea's harsh heat and humidity when winning the Seoul Marathon in March.

The runner in question is Abderrahim Goumri, who did indeed win the Seoul International Marathon here in March, running 2:09:11. That time is about four minutes slower than his personal best, but not because of the heat and humidity. I ran the same race on March 20 and, as anybody who knows anything about Korea could tell you, it is very cold here in March.

I remember the day as being cold and rainy, but don't take my word for it. Data shows that the temperature was 4 degrees in the morning. Here is an IAAF recap of Goumri winning the race even though he is oddly overdressed for the balmy weather Seoul apparently gets in March.

I don't except the IAAF's writers to know all about the Korean climate, nor do I expect them to have a photographic memory of every international marathon, but presumably they get paid for writing what they do. Even two minutes of research could have proven that Seoul is cold in March (average high of 10, low of 1) and that the race in question was also run on a cold day.

Resorting to outright fabrications, as the writer did, is indicative of laziness and is also a window into the sort of careless, amateur operation the IAAF runs as it governs what is, for better or worse, one of the world's largest sports.

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