Willie Banks of Carlsbad thinks he has one — or a set of prescriptions.
“How can IAAF better grow the sport? I have a plan that I would like to discuss in Columbus,” the Olympian said, referring to next week’s annual meeting of USA Track & Field. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t divulge it now.”
But before he can be track’s Dr. Fix-It, Banks must be elected to its world governing body — the International Association of Athletics Federations.On Dec. 1, delegates at the USATF convention will choose between the two-time Olympian (missing a third due to the Moscow Games boycott) and his 1980 teammate Stephanie Hightower.
(“We knew each other,” Banks recalls of their elite track days. “I thought she was a strong, lovely and bright woman.”)
A former NCAA champion hurdler, Hightower will try to defend her seat on the powerful IAAF Council, where she aims to run for vice president in 2019.
Hightower, responding to questions from Times of San Diego, said: “I am a firm believer that I can continue to grow our reach by ensuring that more USATF officials, administrators, coaches and athletes are engaged in the decision making on both the regional and international levels.”
“I was then his manager/agent for much of his professional track career, and have since worked together with him over the years on a number of projects, including on the creation of the original Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in 1998, of which he was one of our co-founders,” Sundlun said. “And he was the lead salesman on Suzuki, which was our first title sponsor and stayed with us for a number of years in large part due to Willie’s acumen.”
Sundlun hails Banks — “one of the more remarkable people you’ll ever meet” — for his combination of knowledge, work ethic, character, charisma, passion and personality “who everyone loves once they meet and know him.”
Banks has a first-class passion for every event and aspect of the sport, Sundlun said last week via email from Suzhou, China, where he attended a marathon.
He said Banks has the personality and political acumen to work collaboratively with everyone at the IAAF and NACAC — the regional IAAF body — and “unite them behind what the U.S. needs, while also working to do what is in the best interests of the sport regionally and worldwide.”
Promoting Hightower are Krsak — a longtime USATF official and currently president of the USATF Ohio Association — and Truvillion, a veteran track coach who became an assistant high school principal in Phoenix.
The pair call Hightower an astute businesswoman who understands IAAF politics and has a knack for negotiating policies and procedures.
“She has been successful in every avenue of her life from athlete to serving on a school board and now as the leader of the Columbus Urban League,” the pair said in an email statement. “She has worked hard for the United States in her push for the successes that speak for themselves.”
Krsak and Truvillion say Hightower, in her three years on the IAAF Council, “has been successful in all matters concerning the IAAF and we are excited to see what she can accomplish in the next four years.”
“We must look to the future and move on from the past and allow Stephanie to continue to push forward on the goals and issues that she sees as important not only to the United Stated but NACAC and the world,” they said.
“The past” could be a reference to Hightower’s controversial ascension to IAAF representative when delegates to the 2014 annual meeting in Anaheim elected a male incumbent — only to be overturned by an 11-1 vote of the USATF Board of Directors.
Banks and Hightower made time to respond to questions from Times of San Diego amid their busy schedules. Banks is preparing for a trip next week to Tokyo for an Olympic nations meeting and Hightower recently attended a women’s athletic summit in the Dominican Republic.
Both are flashing their international experience in the run-up to the election.
Times of San Diego: Why are you a better choice than Willie Banks?
Hightower: I have worked diligently to build political capital at the NACAC regional and the IAAF levels. Additionally, I have developed important alliances with my colleagues on the NACAC Executive council and IAAF Council to help with influencing votes on matters and issues that are not only important to USATF but NACAC and our sport globally.USATF has many talented individuals who need to have their talents and voices heard internationally, and my objective is to ensure that I create those pathways for them to participate.
Finally, I have relationships with all six area presidents and hundreds of member federation officials and presidents. It is important that globally we are respected and seen as an authentic member of the IAAF family and be an all-embracing leader on the global stage.
Why are you not running for NACAC rep?
The NACAC president position requires lots of travel time and complex engagement within the 32 member federations in the region. Victor Lopez [of Puerto Rick], who is retired, considers it a full-time job. And I already have a career as a CEO, running a $8 million nonprofit agency with 77 employees.
Moreover, there are already three candidates who are well-positioned politically, with proven track records in NACAC, who are running for the spot.
Unfortunately, I think some of our folks are really misguided to think that a former Olympian who has not been engaged nor interacted with key NACAC stakeholders have a chance to win.[USATF CEO] Max Siegel and I have worked long and hard for the past four years to rebuild trust and relationships in the NACAC region that didn’t exist before. All of the IAAF regions are politically charged and if you don’t have relationships, you cannot be successful. And building those relationships and trust takes longer that a few months.
I am seeking endorsement to become the first female vice president of the IAAF. And I am confident I have the votes in our region and significant amount of others from the 214 member federations that vote for the council seats.
Times of San Diego: Why are you running for IAAF rep?
Banks: I am running because I have a vision that I think will best be addressed internationally. I have worked in the international sports world for 26 years starting with the FIFA World Cup, the Atlanta Olympic Games and now the ANOC World Beach Games.
I have leaned several things while working in this industry. I have learned that sports is the business of entertainment and not governance. I have a plan that I will discuss with the delegates in Columbus in an effort to win their support.
When did you decide to run?
I decided to run after several people approached me about getting back involved with USATF. I made the final decision after speaking to my wife the beginning of November.
How would you be a better IAAF rep than Stephanie?
Stephanie is a great competitor and politician. My strength, however, will be fourfold:
1) I have been in the international sports arena for 26 years. I know the leadership of more than just the IAAF and NACAC. I was selected to represent North America in the World Olympians Association by the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach.
I was asked by leaders to be one of five champions to sign an international resolution representing all the athletes and Olympians of the world. It is a blessing that I have competed, spent time with, broke bread with many of the people on the IAAF Council. I don’t need time to get to know them; I already know many of them for more than 26 years.
2) I have a real and effective vision for the sport of track and field that is not reactive, but an action plan that I will discuss in Columbus.
3) I will foster communication, inclusiveness and openness.
4) I will speak on behalf of those that have not been heard. That doesn’t mean I will decide based on their opinions, but I will make knowledgeable, well thought-out decisions after hearing from all sides of issues. I want to be active, not reactive, to issues as they pop up.
What changes in IAAF would you like to see?
I would like to support [IAAF President] Seb Coe’s effort to make the IAAF more diverse and sustainable. I would like to make sure that athletes are a strong voice in the effort to move the sport into a new era.
I would like to push for a new way of viewing our sport. I want the IAAF to be a leader in sport in innovation and integrity.
Would you support efforts to keep Russia out of the IAAF world meets and Olympics for not meeting doping expectations?
Yes, I want Russia to live up to all agreed upon procedures and processes before they are reinstated. Of course, I want to make sure that no athlete is kept from competing because of politics. Can you blame me? I was one of the athletes who made the team in 1980 that boycotted the Olympic Games.
The IAAF must be unequivocal about the doping epidemic so that everyone is assured that they are competing on a level and fair playing field.
How would you balance your ANOC World Beach Games duties and IAAF rep role?
My job for the WBG is a full-time job until November 2019. However, my WBG job allows me to travel internationally, just like I will be doing later this week to the ANOC General Assembly in Tokyo. At these meetings, I have the opportunity to see Seb Coe and other officials and can have discussions with them in private.
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