Can the Track & Field Athletes Association save running?
Can the Track & Field Athletes Association save running?
In Stride

Is Running Dying at the Hands of Its Sanctioning Body?

An ongoing battle over the officiating procedures of USA Track and Field leaves us asking: Who really has the athlete's best interests at heart?

Can the Track & Field Athletes Association save running?
Heidi Mills

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When runners boycott a race, sponsors can slash their pay. But in a new attempt to gain leverage over USA Track and Field in an ongoing dispute, the Track & Field Athletes Association has this morning reached out to corporate sponsors to prevent that from happening in the future.

If the TFAA gets its way, sponsors will agree to amend existing contracts so athletes won’t be penalized for skipping events. That would better position the TFAA to ask athletes to skip USA Track and Field events in protest of current officiating rules.

“Our immediate goal with this amendment is that athletes feel more safe taking a stand,” TFAA treasurer Ann Gaffigan says. “If we get to the point in the future where we have to ask athletes to make a stand, they’ll have firmer ground to stand on.” Several big sponsors have already agreed to amend athlete contracts in accordance with the TFAA proposal, she says.

In recent weeks, the two organizations have butted heads over the review and protest process at track events. Currently, USATA, in charge of running competitions, doesn’t involve the TFAA, a nonprofit organization that was formed to look out for the interests of professional track and field athletes. This is something the TFAA is desperate to change after athletes endured several controversial rulings at the USA Indoor National Championships in February.

In the women’s race, winner Gabriele Grunewald was disqualified for fouling Jordan Hasay in the 3,000-meter event. Hasay’s coach, Alberto Salazar, filed the protest. After public dissent over the referee’s decision, Hasay ultimately withdrew the appeal, and Grunewald was reinstated as champion. The win allowed her to earn a spot on the U.S. team at the World Indoor Championships in Poland.

During the men’s race, another disqualification occurred when officials said Andrew Bumbalough interfered with Galen Rupp. Though subsequent video shows that it’s another runner, not Bumbalough, who appears to clip Rupp, USATF has not reversed its decision. Bumbalough finished eighth, which means he won’t advance to the Worlds, regardless of the disqualification—but he still wants USATF to review its decision.

Following these controversies, the TFAA asked to be included in the appeals and protests process at national championship meets as nonvoting observers. But USATF canceled a planned conference call for March 10, and it hasn’t responded to requests for a subsequent discussion, Gaffigan says.

USATF’s latest response, a statement from its president and chairman, Stephanie Hightower, was issued on Wednesday. Hightower said that a USATF working group will look into the manner in which competitions are governed over the coming months. USATF spokesman Jill Geer didn’t respond to an email request for further comment on the situation.

Outspoken runners, including Nick Symmonds, a 2013 800-meter silver medalist at the outdoor world championships, have continued to call for increased involvement on the part of the TFAA. Speaking to Runner’s World, Symmonds said, “We’ve got to have the TFAA involved in every single decision out there, because, too often, certain people bully others, and decisions end up being made that are against USATF’s own operating protocol, which is absurd.”

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