The ITU vs. the Olympics: Is it worth it?

This was another exchange on the newsgroup. I, too, had thought for a while that it would be a simple matter for US age groupers to band together and tell USAT that we didn't care about the Olympics, let's just get out of the ITU. A little more thought on the topic, however, convinced me that things are not so simple.
> (Chris Godell) writes:
It seems that the ITU has few supporters especially in the US and Canada. I believe that it may be time to question our continued involvement in the ITU. Are the Olympics really worth such drastic changes in our sport?

The answer to this question depends upon whom you ask. If you ask the average Joe Amateur Age Grouper, the answer is "No". However, if you ask the elite competitor who actually has a genuine shot at the Olympics, the answer is not quite so simple. Athletes at that level can't afford to take political stands, unfortunately. I'm afraid they really don't care much about how the sport gets maimed or disfigured, as long as they get their shot at Olympic glory.

It's a little hard to blame them. When you're that good, and that competitive, you're not going to let some little rule changes throw a wrench in your plans for a date with Olympic destiny. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of true Olympic hopeful triathletes don't care if the Olympic event is draft-legal or not, they just want to know what kind of race to prepare for and then be left alone to do just that. And if one or two Olympic caliber athletes take a stand on principal and refuse to play such a game, there will ALWAYS be some eager underdog just itching to ignore principle and take their place in a heartbeat. I'm afraid that's the ITU's trump card---so many athletes, so few Olympic slots.

How much influence will the ITU have if the US and Canada drop out of the ITU, and are they willing to lose that influence?

The ITU wouldn't give a tinker's dam if the US and Canada picked up their marbles and went home. In fact, they'd probably be happier! US and Canadian athletes have been a thorn in the ITU's side for years because so many of us bitch about them. The bigger question is rather, are the US and Canada willing to lose the Olympic $$$$$ they would surefly forfeit if they pull out of the international governing body officially recognized by the IOC? Do they have the guts? I don't think so.

Pulling out of the ITU effectively pulls us out of the Olympics, and if a sport is not sending a team to the Olympics, then there is no national Olympic Committee money contributed to that sport. See where this is heading? In other words, neither USAT nor the Canadian NGB (don't know its official name) can afford to kick the ITU in the pants and say goodbye.

Alison wrote:

I agree. It is time that the ATHLETES who make up the sport of triathlon take the sport back from the beaurocrats who are deciding the fate of our sport. Why do we all complain about drafting, the ITU, etc, etc, but take no action. Triathlon is absolutely nothing without the athletes, so why do we accept having no say?

You have to define "we" here. There are really two "we"s to be considered: There is the "we" consisting of you and me, Joe Schmoe MOPper and BOPper, and then there is the "we" of elite caliber athletes for whom the Olympics is more than just another race. It's easy for the first "we" to be cavalier about the Olympics; who cares, we'll never go there! But for the elites, the Olympics represent many things: a lifelong goal to attain, a chance for personal victory, fame, and glory, and, perhaps, an opportunity for financial gain. It's pretty hard to expect a talented athlete to turn all that down on principle. And, as I mentioned earlier, if one athlete takes such a stand, you can be sure another is waiting in the wings, all too eager to take his or her place.

The bottom line is that as far as the Olympics issue is concerned, the will and wishes of Joe and Jane Schmoe, average age-grouper, are meaningless. The athletes who have to take a UNITED stand are the true Olympic hopefuls, the elite athletes. They are the only athletes who can take a stand that matters and that will have any impact whatsoever. Try heading out to the US Olympic Training Center and broaching the topic of an Olympic boycott to Nick Radkewich, Andy Kelsey, and the rest of the resident US Tri Team.

Don't misunderstand me---I wish the elites WOULD band together and chuck the Olympics under the ITU's terms. I just don't think realistically that it will ever happen. The time for such a movement has passed, and USAT were the ones who blew it. If USAT had immediately stated that the US would not field an Olympic team for draft-legal Olympic racing at the time that the ITU announced the draft-legal format, the US elite position would have been made clear and athletes would simply have had to accept the consequences. However, USAT conceded, and immediately began training Olympic hopefuls for draft-legal racing. How can anyone expect those athletes now to say, "Nope, we're not gonna go to the Olympics"?

So, where does that leave us, Joe and Jane Schmoe the age groupers? It leaves us protesting any and all unfair actions of the ITU in every way, shape, or form available to us. Make sure everyone you race with knows about what's going on with triathlon's international governing body. Knowledge is power, and, quite frankly, I think a huge number of triathletes have absolutely no clue about what goes on at that level of the sport.

Take every opportunity to let race directors, other athletes, and even the triathlon press know how you feel about the ITU's actions and methods. Support athletes like Karen Smyers and Greg Welch in their efforts to resist the ITU's dictatorship. Stay away from draft-legal races, and don't draft or block in non-drafting races. Educate other racers whom you see blocking or drafting---maybe they honestly don't know that they're breaking a rule. Wear your heart on your sleeve, so to speak----bumper stickers, t-shirts, banners with anti drafting/ITU slogans let people know how you feel. Just continue to be vocal. That's really all we, the little people of the sport, can do at this point. Maybe some day more of the "big" people like Welch, Smyers, Allen, and Gallagher can do more to have a real impact on the way our sport is governed.

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