Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the IoC, said that “organised sport can create moral and social strength”. He must be turning in his grave at this hour.
In the race to the bottom of sponsors’ esteem, the IAAF has surged into the lead, almost certainly overtaking FIFA for the least coveted title of “Sports Body with the Most Negative Image”.
Organised sport seems more and more to be a place where moral and social weakness hold sway.
Sponsors – effectively the bankers for international athletics competitions – stood by the sport through thick and thin, as it was rocked, down the years, by scandalous behaviour on the part of both athletes and their coaches.
There were always compensations. Major sponsors purchase more than just image enhancement and positive associations, of course, when they buy into and leverage a major sponsorship program. The ability to reach massive TV audiences worldwide will inevitably trump three or four days of negative headlines around a particular bad apple.
But here’s the rub: even viewing levels may be hit if organised athletics loses forever the precious credibility that draws the millions to their TV screens – credibility that has been fundamental to its mass appeal and thus a key driver of sponsorship investment.
The ‘back stories’ of individual athletes are bread and butter for media reporting on athletics competitions. But where suspicion exists that such stories are incomplete – partly fictional because of a cynical sub-plot, a conspiracy involving the use of banned drugs – media will shy away from giving such material the credence and focus that it has come to expect.
Many of the image associations for which brands pay so heavily have been fractured and tarnished so badly that some of the basic funding of athletics may be in jeopardy henceforth.
And ironically there can be very positive image benefits available to brands which terminate relationships with drug cheats, or indeed organisations which are seen to facilitate criminal activities.
The turnaround in athletics must be accomplished quickly; standards for compliance must be seen to be much higher than heretofore; and the IAAF must enforce new rules far more strongly.
Faster – Higher – Stronger: that’s the only way forward now for the IAAF and world athletics.