Not convinced that the ITU is so bad, huh?

Well, how about this? The following appears on page 22 of the June 1997 issue of Inside Triathlon (reprinted here without permission):

(At the ITU's first world cup event for 1997) Triathletes, including Jackie Gallagher and Greg Welch, were asked to sign an 'ITU Competitor Agreement' before they could take part in the race.

Panicky athletes contacted Mark Allen, president of the newly formed Professional Triathlon Guild, or PTG....Allen had attorneys read the agreement; and the PTG's lawyers advised triathletes not to sign it.

'PTG considers the following contract to be unacceptable as written,' said a press release from Allen and the PTG. 'PTG advises all pro triathletes to seek the help of their business or legal advisors. ITU has stated that the following contract must be signed before any athlete will be allowed to race in ... subsequent ITU Triathlon World Cup events. Should that be the case, it is PTG's view that athletes should race elsewhere until that requirement is removed.'

Triathletes, however, need the ITU races to accumulate points to qualify for the 2000 Olympic Games.

The PTG added an addendum to the contract, giving the athletes two weeks to contact advisors. The ITU, according to the PTG, rejected the signed contracts with the addnedum; the athletes then rejected the ITU contract without the addendum, and the race, according to the PTG, went on.

Among the 13 points in the contract that the PTG found objectionable were:

'The competitor agrees that the terms of this agreement specifically override and have precedence over any other agreement...the competitor may have with any national federation, sponsor, employer, manager, agent or other person with whom he/she has contracted to provide services.'

The PTG comment on this: 'This paragraph requires an athlete to breach any sponsorship agreement the athlete may have in place... No pro athlete can sign any agreement with a paragraph such as this in place.'

'...The competitor agrees not to make comment, issue, offer or endorse any public criticism or statement...having or designed to have a prejudicial effect on the interests, welfare or image of triathlon, duathlon or the ITU or the ITU's assoiciates.'

PTG comment: '...this paragraph also muzzles the pro athletes and it means that the athlete cannot criticize Pacific Sports Entertainment, ITU's marketing agency. Athletes should be mindful that the new uniform rules and the Olympic qualification system contrived by ITU are all designed to benefit Pacific Sports Entertainment's ability to produce revenue for itself and the ITU. Athletes should retain their right to criticize what's going on in the sport which is detrimental to their interests. PTG is of the opinion that the ITU is seeking to create a commercial monopoly based upon its governance position.'

The ITU had issued a ruling on uniforms the pros were required to wear at ITU races; the uniforms severely restricted the size and number of sponsorship logos an athlete could display on equipment and clothing, which athletes said would kill their sponsorship dollars. After much objection, the ITU put off implementing this rule until next year. (The ITU could not be reached for comment.)

What's next?

My jaw literally dropped as I read this. I couldn't believe it. Of course, the ITU has pulled some asinine stunts in the past, but this is outrageous. Any athlete who would willingly sign such an agreement would have to be a complete imbecile---or else a perfect ITU pawn.

The ITU obviously wants to "own" all its athletes. Make 'em wear a "uniform" (is that demeaning or WHAT?) and issue a gag order---don't let anyone utter a word of dissent! I'm telling you, it's like Nazi Germany.

I think that the "gag order" section of the contract is pretty damned telling; any organization that feels it is necessary to coerce its membership into signing an agreement not to malign said organization is obviously operating in some unsavory way and wants to keep it quiet. Including such a statement in this contract is tantamount to admitting there is a great deal of dissent and unhappiness with the way the ship is being sailed, and that such dissent simply will neither be heard nor tolerated. Sounds pretty darned fascist to me.

In the same issue of IT on page 48 there is a brief article about the formation of the Professional Triathlete Guild (it appears as both "Triathlon" and "Triathlete" in IT, so I'm not sure which is correct). Bravo to the brave pros spearheading this effort to fight for their autonomy against the Evil Empire! Allen is the president, and is joined by vice presidents Jackie Gallagher, Simon Lessing, Karen Smyers and Greg Welch.

Guys, if any of you are out there to read this, RIGHT ON! Believe that thousands of age groupers are behind you and support you all the way! Hell, I'd even be willing to contribute monetarily to the cause, just gimme a chance. Any group that'll stand up to the ITU gets my complete and unequivocal support. I admire and applaud your efforts, and I'm sure the vast majority of triathletes out there do as well.

Does anyone out there still believe that the ITU is a basically benign institution?

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