‘Let's save Athletics’

2014-11-15 00:00

TRINIDAD sprinter Ato Boldon opened proceedings at the inaugural Global Athletics Conference at Sibaya Casino yesterday.

The international conference aims to address issues and ways forward for athletics in South Africa, Africa and the world.

The theme of his address was “saving our sport” and he delivered a thought-provoking and enthralling speech.

“If I have learned anything from my success as a sprinter it’s that there is more to it than the medals. I ended up changing the sporting direction of my country which was football mad at the time,” Boldon said.

Boldon placed big emphasis on how athletics and athletes’ marketability have a bearing on the development and popularity of the sport around the world.

“More people watch the World Championships or the Olympics than most other sports. Athletes need to be trained to deal with the media and interviews,” he said.

This was echoed by KZN Athletics president Sello Mokoena, who said the product you give to the market determines how successful it will be.

Boldon touched on a number of issues plaguing athletics development.

He started off with doping.

“This is the biggest crisis in our sport. We are losing fans because they feel they can’t trust the performances they’re seeing. Whenever the drug word is raised, everyone seems to run away.”

He proposed that athletes caught doping should be given life bans to remove the lure of doping.

“I have known Marion Jones for a long time, but the damage she did to the sport is one of the reasons we are having this conference.”

Jones was stripped of three gold medals she won at the 2000 Olympics after admitting to doping.

Another bone of contention is the lack of change in athletics. Pointing to the way other sports have evolved over the years, Boldon hopes athletics follows suit.

“The World Relay champs is a good example. Mixed relays are another interesting prospect I would love to see,” he said.

Money is also something that is seldom spoken about in athletics. Despite sprinters like Usain Bolt being among the world’s richest sportsmen, most athletes’ salaries are hidden secrets.

“It is a disservice because young athletes don’t know what they can make in athletics as a career.

“Why guard salaries?” he said.

Another theme that will be hotly discussed is talent identification, which Boldon believes is crucial.

“The question is, how do you find all these talented kids?”

These and more topics will be discussed by various panels that include high profile former and current athletes from around the globe.

Prominent Speakers include:

• America’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee — former Olympic Games pentathlete and long-jumper.

• Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto — current marathon world record holder.

• Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang — former marathon world record holder and 2012 Olympic marathon bronze medallist.

• South Africa’s Elana Meyer — who won SA’s first Olympic medal in the 10 km run after re-admission into the Olympics.

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