The president of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS), Italian media man Gianni Merlo, has written to the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Lord Sebastien Coe, suggesting that all world records in track and field should be scratched and made to start anew.
Merlo is a true friend of Jamaica's journalists who travel internationally to cover the sport. He has, on a few occasions, rushed to support Jamaican sports media professionals who were in conflict with their bosses on issues regarding their services. This, even though the locals have not, as a group, been affiliated as contributing members with the world body.
Merlo's request to Lord Coe stems from the launch by the IAAF head of an online portal, where information on doping violations could be conveyed for subsequent investigations, leading to charges against offending parties. Having accepted that such a move was necessary, his first concern, as expressed in his letter, was "The problem will be the investigations, looking into the tips. Who will follow up on the anonymous suggestions and the whispers?" He went on to say that if things have reached the point where such a course was considered, and in fact implemented, "then, I think that the moment has arrived to close the world record books in athletics and open new ones".
Merlo was equally concerned that the stripping of medals of those who emerged as guilty from any investigation would be accompanied as well by records going through the window. He attempted to justify "scrapping all records" by declaring that with all the doubts that have plagued the sport, he had to look to the future. He further explained, "I think it would be healthy to begin a new era of athletics that would give new hope to coming generations."
This last thought resonates well with Foster's Fairplay. That is on account of the very recent frustrations expressed by the female athletes, in particular, when they look at the 10.49 (100m), 21.34 (200m), set by the late Florence Griffith Joyner of the USA, and 47.60 (400m) set by Germany's Marita Koch, and so on. Those marks stand before them like USA's President-elect Trump's much-talked-about wall, placed there to stymie all thoughts of movement into an area of a better life. All female athletes in these sprint disciplines, present and future, will always see these marks as unattainable.
But, is the Merlo response one that should be contemplated, let alone put into being? To bring the discussion closer to home, there are two outstanding world records set by a Jamaican that are very special to the nation. They are 9.58 in the men's 100m and 19.19 in the 200m at the 2009 Berlin World Championships - pinnacle moments in the history of track and field. Given opposing views as to authenticity and disparaging remarks held in high places, if they were tainted, it would surely have been revealed as such some time ago. Are they destined, or better put, how much justice would be served by having them go the way of the Merlo request?
Foster's Fairplay remains doubtful. Any thought of falling in line and accepting the Merlo urge to Lord Coe as workable, have, however, been severely compromised by further content in that letter. Merlo is quoted again. "The fanatic quest for records has brought athletics on the brink of destruction. It is time to change the direction. Usain Bolt will be not remembered for his records, but for what he has achieved in every race, for his behaviour." The Italian had the same view about the great Jesse Owens, "not for his world record, but for the symbol he represented".
This columnist totally disagrees with this Merlo viewpoint. The view here is that as ephemeral as a world record can be, it adds to the stature of the athlete and makes him or her just as worthy of emulation as any other excellent feat or achievement. The fact that the mark may be transient and short-lived is irrelevant to its importance as a statistic to be targeted by those in the future of the sport. Let there be sustained effort and enforcement to lessen or, as much as possible, rid the sport of drugs.
Removing records set by the honest athlete does not provide a fair answer.
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