By Kevin Liao
This past weekend in Santa Monica, the USA Track and Field board of directors reaffirmed its prior decision to nominate former USATF president Stephanie Hightower for a position on the IAAF Council, as reported by Ken Stone of this publication.
The decision overruled a 392-70 vote by USATF delegates in December favoring Bob Hersh, a stalwart of track and field in the United States.
You read that right — nearly 85 percent of delegates cast a ballot for Hersh, yet the vote was dismissed in favor of Hightower, the USATF board’s handpicked candidate.
As the current senior vice president of the International Associations of Athletic Federations council, Hersh wields considerable influence at the international governing body and was a “trusted advisor” to the United States winning bids to host global championships.
Replacing Hersh with Hightower would be like ousting an incumbent Congressman with seniority and experience in favor of a lowly backbencher without the clout to advance the needs of her constituents.
Steven Miller, board vice chair, justified the decision by invoking the arcane Electoral College, claiming that — like in presidential elections — the popular vote victor does not always prevail with the presidency.
For all its faults, the Electoral College is a straightforward mechanism. Each state is designated a certain number of electoral votes, and the first candidate to reach a majority of those votes wins the presidency — period. There is no mechanism for third-party interference, such as the Supreme Court arbitrarily reversing a result it doesn’t like.
This power grab that USATF board members have carved out in bylaws, however, reeks of a “we know better than you” arrogance and smugness.
Miller went on to embarrass himself further, claiming “when John F. Kennedy didn’t win the popular vote and was elected anyway that frustrated a lot of people.”
That simply isn’t accurate. President Kennedy won both the popular and Electoral College votes in his 1960 election to the White House.
Miller certainly won’t be invited to my weekly pub trivia nights anytime soon.
The board’s actions are ultimately a slap in the face to grassroots activists who serve as delegates. Many of these individuals traveled to the December vote in Anaheim on their own dime.
These are the same people who spend hours every year volunteering their time to the sport. They are the officials who stand in the sun for hours officiating a high school meet, and the organizers of the bake sales that fund local youth clubs.
These individuals are the very reason that track and field has survived as a sport. Disregarding their voices as the USATF board has done will only serve to alienate them.
What happens to track and field then?
Kevin Liao is a Sacramento-based writer, political staffer and amateur runner. He is a graduate of UC San Diego.
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