Amateur has always been an ambiguous epithet, a term that covers all manner of supposed virtues and actual sins.
Unfortunately, while our athletes are no longer amateurs in the financial sense, their officials have demonstrated their amateurism – in the worst possible sense of the word – in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The fining of athletes Alex Rowe, Sally Pearson and thrower Benn Harradine for their late arrival at the athletics team camp in Gateshead beggars belief.
Rowe’s case is most instructive. The up-and-coming 800 metre runner was late because he was given a last-minute invitation to race in Monte Carlo on Friday against some of the world’s greatest runners, including Olympic champion David Rudisha.
Rowe took up the challenge in superb style, equalling Ralph Doubell’s 46-year-old national record in the event.
Remarkably, Athletics Australia said that it believed Rowe had done the right thing by going to Mote Carlo – but fined him all the same.
“What I want Alex to do is what happened, to be honest,” said AA high performance director Simon Nathan.
But he insisted that Rowe had to be fined for the sake of consistency and fairness to other team members, arguing it was vital that all athletes supported the team camps.
“An opportunity came up for him that he couldn’t probably have imagined six months ago. His plans were to come through the camp. He could have dropped into the camp for 24 hours and dropped back out again.
“That wouldn’t have been great, but for him to do that [run in Monte Carlo], there’s a consequence.”
I’m embarrassed to be a life member of Athletics Australia. You do wonder how you can continually clutch defeat from the jaws of victory.
As former Australian athlete Dave Culbert pointed out on SEN radio on Monday, the news of the fines coincided with a “media day” for the athletes in Glasgow, which was instead overshadowed “by the incompetence of the administration”.
“I’m embarrassed to be a life member of Athletics Australia,” Culbert said. “You do wonder how you can continually clutch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
The mere fact that the record Rowe equalled was so ancient is a pointer to just how desperately Athletics Australia needs to harness whatever good news comes its way, not taint it with unbending, bureaucratic nonsense.
An Australian male runner has not won a major title – Olympic or world – on the track since Doubell set that record in winning the 800 metres at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. (Although Robert de Castella has won on the road.)
As it happens, the time good enough to win Olympic gold in 1968 enabled Rowe to take seventh in Monte Carlo (see the race and Rowe’s post-race interview in the video below). In Glasgow, he will be up against several of the same runners, including winner Nijel Amos from Botswana and Kenyan great Rudisha.
Rowe, a university student who is still without a shoe sponsor, reacted with equanimity to the fine, which amounts to about $860.
“It certainly doesn’t look great but those are the rules and I knew what they were,” he said.
“If there was a discretionary clause in there and they were able to exercise it, perhaps that would have been the case.”
“But having said that, you also have to look at the support Athletics Australia have provided me with throughout my whole career.”
Rowe and reigning discus champion Benn Harradine were both docked a third of their funding, but Pearson skipped the gathering altogether, deciding she would be better served by competing in London on Sunday.
Pearson, who is returning from a hamstring injury, finished third in the hurdles. The race was won by England’s Tiffany Porter, signalling that Pearson has a job ahead of her to defend her Commonwealth Games title.
Other prominent Australians who competed at the Diamond League meet in Monte Carlo, such as javelin thrower Kim Mickle and pole vaulter Alana Boyd, were not affected by the funding cuts as they had previously been in camp in Gateshead.