Sunday, 25 September 2011

On the Reclassification of the Women's World Marathon Record

Is Lamine Diack's IAAF running a retreat for out-of-work Taliban?  By not only denying women marathon runners in mixed-sex races the right, in the future, to call themselves world-record-holders, but by retrospectively stripping the current world-record-holder of the title that she has rightfully and honourably held for the past eight years, the IAAF is guilty of making a peevish and sexist grab for what it appears to regard as a brand of its own creating: such as we say thou art, so shalt thou be. Meanwhile, the rules concerning male athletes and pacers remain unchanged: pacing, according to the IAAF, is acceptable as long as it is done by a person of the same sex.

Why? By using elite male athletes as pacers, world-class women marathoners may (but are not guaranteed to) run faster than they would alone. By pacing off men in the 2003 London Marathon, Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain propelled women's marathon running into a new era when she set the current world record (or "world's best", as it appears we must now call it) of 2:15:25. Refusing to acknowledge this time as the world record is, first of all, a logical absurdity and oligarchic double-speak of the highest order. It may look like a duck and quack like a duck, but the IAAF, bestower of Brand Duck, reserves the right to call it a non-duck. Secondly, and more disturbingly, it actively penalizes women who seek to stretch the boundaries of female athletic performance. It is a physiological fact that elite men will always be faster than elite women; no female marathon runner will ever be the fastest human over the distance; but that is an advantage to men, not to women.

Stretching credulity to support discreditable decisions, has, however, become something of a minor sport under Mr. Diack. In 2009, the IAAF instigated the bizarre and revolting Caster Semenya affair, which resulted in the uncommonly fast, but insufficiently-kittenish, South African being subjected to the kind of prurient public speculation that would have gone down well in seventeenth-century Salem. Prior to that, in 2007, the IAAF located a lab willing to tell a gullible media that Oscar Pistorius, a double-leg amputee, had an advantage over two-legged men in the 400 metres (a decision subsequently overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which found no evidence to support the IAAF's ban on Pistorius competing with able-bodied athletes).

The latest decision of the IAAF is, like others in recent history, wrong, and should be reversed. Furthermore, it prompts the question, in a sport still all-too-frequently tarnished by drug abuse, has Mr. Diack and his organization really so little to do that removing world records from people in whose achievements the IAAF has previously gloried is a priority? If so, it is time for Mr. Diack to vacate his office, and hand the job of administering athletics to people who do not feel, as he and his fellow gnomes of Monaco seem to do, a pressing need to try to return the sport to the days when the length of men's shorts came close to exceeding the distances women, for their "health", were permitted to run.