With the new season of little athletics ready to launch forth on the track and facilities at the upgraded Hensley Athletics Field, the difference in athletics between the various levels of competition has never been more apparent. We will have at Hensley a new season of great competition by young athletes who are the future of their various disciplines.
To watch them any Saturday is to see athletics at its most exuberant. I contrast that with the organisation of athletics at the national level. Remember when we were going through all the planning for the Hensley upgrade and the criticism we got. The alleged elite athletes were our constant critics. Nothing we were doing was right. Our crime at the stage was not to hand over a valued community asset to a small group of athletes who, in their minds, knew better than us We resisted the entreaties of the critics and went ahead and delivered a new community asset that will benefit our City and athletics in our region for generations.
This was brought home to me in the past week when reigning Commonwealth 400 meter champion John Steffensen withdrew from the Australian team for the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
He withdrew because of the inflexibility and bureaucratic mindset of officials in Athletics Australia – one of the organisations that was used to criticise us over Hensley.
Steffensen is the Commonwealth champion and he won’t be competing in the Commonwealth Games.
His crime, as far as the officials were concerned, was that he had to follow their inflexible rules when it came to qualifying. He’d had a back operation and wanted an exemption on qualifying. His operation was timed so that he could compete in Delhi – but that wasn’t good enough for the black and white bureaucrats who love their official roles.
If he didn’t run to qualify – and that would have been after surgery – his spot could be guaranteed. Even though he was the champion, others with lesser times could take the spot. The official inflexibility means the Commonwealth champion won’t be at the Commonwealth Games representing Australia. Steffensen isn’t the only one.
Long distance runner and Melbourne Commonwealth Games hero Craig Mottram was another. Mottram had an Achilles tendon injury and could do the qualifiers. Others have filled the places and he’s left out.
Having had some experience with athletics officials, I cannot only sympathise with John Steffensen and Craig Mottram, I see but don’t understand the bloody mindedness of athletics officials.
These two elite athletes experienced it in their quest to represent their nation.
We saw it, on a much smaller scale, over the redevelopment of Hensley. We persevered and produced a community asset for this City. Our community won. Steffensen and Mottram lost and athletics is the poorer for that loss. But the officials go on regardless.