Report: Athletes Could Boycott USATF Outdoor Championships

Nike coach Alberto Salazar was at the center of a controversy at the USATF Indoor Championships in February. Photo: www.photorun.net

The athletes are calling for more power when it comes to USATF enforcing the rules at meets.

Athletes could potentially boycott the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships in June, according to a report.

The Wall Street Journal reports that some prominent American athletes are considering going on strike and not competing at the annual meet, which is slated for June 26-29 in Sacramento, Calif. The reasons are complicated, but essentially the athletes, which are not unionized, are unhappy with how USATF manages meets and applies the rules.

At the the USATF Indoor Championships in February, for example, Nike runner Jordan Hasay was bumped by Brooks athlete Gabriele Grunewald with a lap to go in the women’s 3,000m final. Grunewald won the race and Hasay was fourth, but the incident sparked a protest by Nike coach Alberto Salazar.

Grunewald was disqualified but later, when Hasay dropped the protest in the face of backlash, the victory was returned to her.

Another Salazar athlete, Galen Rupp, was allegedly interfered with in the men’s 3,000m by Andrew Bumbalough at the same meet. Both men are Nike athletes and Salazar protested the contact, which resulted in Bumbalough being disqualified. Bumbalough originally finished eighth and Rupp was second.

With Nike having a hand in every USATF meet because of its sponsorship—the Beaverton, Ore., shoe and apparel company is the organization’s largest sponsor—many people close to the sport feel the rules are not always applied fairly. Athletes have also complained about rules related to how and where sponsorship logos can appear on their race apparel.

Furthermore, some athletes and coaches have been outraged at the USATF’s lack of response to questions and issues that have been presented both informally and formally.

The Track & Field Athletes Association, the unofficial union that represents 139 athletes, wants to have more control over the rules of the sport and how they are applied. The organization’s president is 2004 Olympic shot put champion Adam Nelson.

“We’re moving towards a situation in which the athletes truly can collectively speak,” Nelson said in the Wall Street Journal story. “And I can say that this is certainly the first time in my generation.”

Nelson said “nothing is off the table” when it comes to the group’s legal options in the matter.

If athletes go ahead with the boycott, the U.S. championship meet could be severely limited or even canceled. Ticket sales, concession sales, hotel reservations in Sacramento would all be in jeopardy, as would the NBC broadcast of the meet.

Although there several athletes has posted comments on social media outlets that suggest they’ll be boycotting, not all top tier athletes have announced their intent. This year is somewhat of an “off” year for American track athletes because there is no Olympics or IAAF World Championships meet this year, thus the U.S. championships—which serves as the qualifying meet for those events—carries less importance than in most years.

David Oliver, the 2013 world champion in the 110-meter hurdles, told Competitor.com on Thursday in Denver that he intends to race in Sacramento, partially out of respect to the host city that won the bid to host the meet.

Professional athletes in other sports leagues—the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB, for example—are all represented by unions that claim to keep the athletes’ best interests in mind. But track and field athletes are not paid by a team; they make their money through sponsorships and prize money.

Running apparel manufacturers Saucony, Brooks, and Oiselle Running, who sponsor athletes on the track and field circuit, have all pledged to support the athletes they pay to use their brands and act as real-life marketers.

Nike has yet to announce its position on the issue.

For More: The Wall Street Journal

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