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Opinion

The 2022 World Athletics Championships will remind us of running's beauty despite track’s ongoing struggle

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
25th June, 2022
14

As running is one of my favourite sports, I look forward to watching our best runners (100m to marathon) get the attention they deserve at the upcoming World Athletics championships (15-24 July 2022) in Eugene, Oregon.

I am not one who bemoans the low profile of the sport for most of the year.

The fact that certain sports have a much greater profile all year round, and many players earn millions in sports such as golf and tennis, while only a small number of runners will do very well financially, is simply a reality of sport.

I am a firm believer that each sport, while seeking to get greater public assistance like any other, should stand on its own two feet as much as possible.

I don’t believe that government should fund athletes beyond a reasonable stipend to help them once they reach a high level.

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It is up to the sport itself to promote greater interest to generate greater revenue, but to now even the Diamond League does not really generate enough interest to enable World Athletics to pay the winner of each event more than $10,000 per race, although prize money is much higher for the final and the various world championships.

For the most part, only a few top runners will make a good living from appearances fees, sponsors and prize money for major meetings.

For many athletes it may be even harder today to be rewarded than in previous decades.

Rohan Browning

(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

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The Jamaica Gleaner (2013) noted that whereas once an athlete who was ranked 15th in the world could get $3000-$4000 appearance fees at some of the smaller meets, and perhaps earn around US$60,000 a year, now such athletes will earn between US$15-20,000 per year because the Diamond League largely avoids appearance fees and only a few thousand is earned here and there for finishing fourth or fifth.

It is hard work for any national body to reward many athletes, never mind Australia where the sport has a pretty low profile for most of the year and smaller numbers are directly involved in athletics.

Even in the US where the USATF had 130,000 members by 2016 and has courted a number of sponsors, total annual assistance (cash and non-cash benefits) to athletes (not counting personal sponsorship or appearance money) was US$100,000-plus for just 28 athletes with 111 receiving over US$38,000 and 179 over US$25,000.

For the 2021 US PGA season, 124 players earned over US$1 million prize money alone with the 200th highest earner still receiving US$175,000.

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As the global medalist Nick Symmonds (2013 800m silver) has noted, only a few global stars like Usain Bolt will get rich through multi-million dollar endorsements and large appearance fees.

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For Symmonds, besides early contracts that provided running gear and a small travel budget to enable him to avoid a secondary job to focus on training, it was really only after he become a top-ten athlete that he benefited for a few years.

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With regard to the bigger meetings such as the Diamond League, where better athletes have their travel, hotel and food costs paid for, Symmonds would target races where he could get at least $2000 prize money for placing.

While Bolt could demand six-figure fee appearances, Symmonds’ higher global status from 2012 resulted in appearance fees between US$8000 and US$10,000 – although these opportunities were “very short-lived” once he was injured and his performances drop off the radar. 

But running has always been and will always be a great sport regardless of the few runners that do really well financially out of the sport, as will be highlighted at the upcoming World Championships.

Australia – continuing on from its success at the Tokyo Olympic Games last year when several Australian runners finished in the top eight, and Peter Bol got a huge television audience when running fourth in the 800m final – may achieve similar top performances in Eugene, Oregon.

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Based on recent form, our best running chances appear Peter Bol (800m), Oliver Hoare (1500m), Jack Rayner (10,000m) and Jessica Hull (1500m).

Jessica Hull of the Oregon Ducks leads the pack of runners.

(Photo by Steve Nowland/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

But besides the national dimension, running is one of those great individual sports where its devotees do not rely on national success for their enjoyment and/or inspiration as most of us marvel at the great athletes of the world.

My interest in running came from watching the best runners in the world many decades ago, while also hoping that Australia did well.

Early memories of running prowess include watching Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena (400m and 800m) and Trinidad’s Hasely Crawford (100m) win gold medals at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, at the same time I watched Australia’s Raelene Boyle get disqualified in the 200m for a double false start where she definitely had an excellent medal chance.

I also recall the sporting world being captivated by the great clashes between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe in the 800m and 1500m (Moscow 1980), and the 100m duels between Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson (Rome 1987 and Seoul 1988) with the latter clashes forever becoming part of sporting folklore for good and bad reasons.

At this year’s world championships, highlights for myself will include watching the gun US female 800m runner Athing Mu, and Norway’s superstar 1500m runner Jakob Ingebrigsten.

So, at the end of the day, rather than whinge about the sport’s low profile, we should remember that many Australians do have an interest in running performance and that this interest will receive greater attention at July’s World Athletics Championships, even if it is only for a fleeting moment.

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