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WORLD MARATHON MAJORS MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 22, 2006
RICHARD FINN: Welcome, everybody, from both sides of the Atlantic to our World Marathon Majors conference call with the five race directors. We will have an opening comment or statement from two of our race directors, then we'll open it up to questions from all five race directors.
We have Carey Pinkowski, executive race director of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon from Chicago; Guy Morse, executive director of the Boston Marathon speaking to us from Boston; Dave Bedford, race director of the Flora London Marathon speaking to us from London; Mark Milde, race director of the real,- Berlin Marathon speaking to us from Berlin; and here in New York, we have Mary Wittenberg, race director of the ING New York City Marathon.
It's my pleasure to turn it over now to Carey Pinkowski in Chicago.
CAREY PINKOWSKI: Thank you, Richard.
Good morning and afternoon to everyone. We are back together obviously after a four-month break with our spring events in Boston and London. There's some excitement building around the series as you're all aware as we prepare and move towards Berlin on September 24th, then Chicago on October 22nd. As you've seen, we have some of our marquee athletes, some of the greatest distance runners and marathon runners in the world that have already been announced. Obviously in Berlin, Mr. Gebrselassie and Ms. Noguchi; Paul Tergat and Deena Kastor in New York; Felix Limo in Chicago, which obviously illustrates the marquee athletes are continuing to compete in our events.
With our series moving forward, our group collectively and our collaborative efforts, there's been some visible things we've talked about. Mr. Bedford will discuss that. We've been continuing to discuss and work together on several issues on the forefront, but also behind the scenes I think our efforts and our partnerships have been very, very successful and things are coming on the horizon.
I think we'll add to the sport. It will be good for all of our events. I'm excited to continue this relationship and partnership.
What I'd like to do now is hand this over to David Bedford from London and give us a state of affairs on some of the issues and elements that we've been working on recently.
DAVE BEDFORD: Good afternoon, good morning as the case may be, to everybody.
This year is a slightly unusual year in the cycle of World Marathon Majors in that three years out of four we have a World Championships or Olympic Games that forms part of our scoring structure. We felt that this being the odd year out that it was probably useful to just touch base with people almost as a bridge between the spring and autumn events.
As you are all aware, World Marathon Majors is a very new organization, although the events that make it up have a massive amount of history and a massive amount of knowledge. We have, however, been working on a number of fronts from the spring through till now and we see this as an opportunity just to touch base with you on some of that.
You will know that we made an announcement about three months ago that the World Marathon Majors had committed themselves to a very strong position on athletes who were found positive of more than -- an offense that had more than a three-month penalty. Any athletes so inflicted would never be invited back to our events as elite athletes.
We have continued to develop that stance and have been working very strongly on joint contracts where each of the contracts that each of our marathons has with elite athletes has all the basic common principles. In other words, an athlete competing in Chicago or New York will have the same responsibilities as if they were in London or Berlin. We have already started working in our own way on drafts of those.
More importantly, within that there are a number of elements that would probably call in other sports a Code of Conduct which talks very much about what the events expect from athletes. Obviously, athletes want to know what they can expect from events the other way. I think we are now identifying that a Code of Conduct for athletes is very, very important.
And I think that as we've gone through this summer, and like the rest of our sport, I have been shocked to the core which I suppose is not an overexaggeration on the impact of in athletics, Justin Gatlin's announcement; in cycling, the Tour de France announcement; and of course the pending confirmation, the very real situation, real possibility that Marion Jones might have also, notwithstanding the starts she's taken since Sydney, or maybe beforehand, looks likely to be in.
That has caused us to strengthen our resolve. We have as a group of World Marathon Majors written to IAAF. We have copied into our own Federations, our own chief executives, and members from our own country who sit on IAAF council, reminding them of the stance that World Marathon Majors have taken on doping, and urging the IAAF to take significantly stronger action as we go forward in order to protect their part of the sport of athletics.
Marathon running has so far been fortunate perhaps, or maybe it's because of the resolve of individual members, not to have had such shocking announcements. We believe, however, that to sit there and to say that this does not impact on our state would be naive. And we believe that probably, and this is a personal view, but I know that certainly some of my colleagues will agree with me on this, that the time to believe that education is the way forward with athletes with drug abuse has gone and that the only thing that has a chance of having a significant impact on our sport is a significantly higher level of penalties, and we believe we have certainly shown the way there.
We don't necessarily want this conference to only concern itself with that. And we have continued, as you know in London we had a trial with great support from the shoe companies on the way our athletes looked, identifying athletes from different color vests. We have had number of meetings with shoe companies and believe that we are significantly closer now than at any other time to having a mutual view on how our athletes look not only within our own group but also with significant support from all of the major shoe companies.
That perhaps doesn't sound too much for the three months or so between the spring and autumn marathons, however you will note, those of you who have any idea about the politics of this world, that's kept us very busy. I hope it gives you a flavor for the fact that we continue to be a group of the best marathons in the world united in our belief that we are the best marathons, united in the belief that we have to continue to strive for perfection in our sport. On behalf of my colleagues, that's where we stand.
RICHARD FINN: Thank you, Dave.
Q. I think everyone would like to maybe hear a little bit more from Dave on any specifics you have about the Code of Conduct, but I have another question also. You have like successful, well-established marathons with their own traditions, all that. I'm wondering, as time goes on, professionalism and growth, other things happen, how you struggle maybe to have to alter some of those traditions. I'm specifically thinking about the Boston Marathon. Guy, obviously you made a decision to abandon something that had been going on forever there, alter your start. I'm just wondering how much resistance you got from old-timers on that, what ultimately made you decide that it was a step you had to take.
GUY MORSE: First of all, the decisions to change the start procedures were unrelated to World Marathon Majors, for sure. You know, what we look at, as we have in the past, tradition is very important, but also progress is important. To be honest with you, we did not receive, at least to date we have not received a lot of hesitation or push-back on the earlier start. I think there's a common goal and a common agreement that an earlier start is better for the runners, especially on a warm day, which has been recently the case at several Bostons.
Also, you know, like a lot of other traditions, there are traditions for a reason but there's also a reason for change. Witness the one point in time when women weren't allowed to compete in Boston or elsewhere. That was a change that was overdue. We believe the start time was a change that is overdue both from the runners' point of view, which also goes to the medical concerns of the runners, and also from the community's point of view in our particular case.
As you know, it's on a Monday in Boston, quasi holiday, Patriots day, and traffic issues became paramount over the years. So in working with the communities along the course, eight cities and towns, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it became clear that this change was ready to be made.
We've received virtually no resistance to it from the communities, and in fact most runners are embracing it as a refreshing change for Boston to keep us in the forefront of marathoning.
Q. A question for Dave Bedford. Could you elaborate a bit more on what you're saying about significantly higher levels of sanctions. Are you talking about you think it's time for a return to a lifetime ban? Can you clarify exactly what you mean by anybody with a three-month ban would not be allowed to take part in any of these marathons. Have I understood you correctly?
DAVE BEDFORD: Yes, correct. There was a time when I was an expert on this area from the position of UK athletics. If I'm not quite on the ball now, you'll forgive me, I hope.
The IAAF place doping infringements into two categories: a category that receives up to a three-month penalty for first offense, i.e., a more minor offense; and offenses over three months, which in the main are penalties of more than two years. Anyone that gets a second offense on a minor one would get two years the following time.
If we just go back in time for a minute and go back pretty close on 20 years, the position of certainly UK athletics, and myself at the time, was that there should be for the more serious offenses a lifetime ban from the (indiscernible). The IAAF in congress, trying to find a middle position that pulled people together throughout the world, finally settled on a four-year period. This was in the time of Primo Nebiolo, who was the then president. Four years later at the next opportunity, the four years came down to a two-year ban.
The view of the sport of athletics and the world governing body was very clear: they didn't want people in athletics to be treated any more harshly than perhaps people in other sports were, and there was a general view from the people in the anti-doping world that four years was a bit harsh for a first serious doping offense.
Running parallel to that was the view that what the sport of athletics needed was an education program to try to explain to youngsters that doping wasn't a good idea, was against the rules, et cetera. They hoped that dual approach was going to steer the tide of doping problems.
What we have seen, in my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of my colleagues, since then is that the majority of runners who have been found positive, if you like, have informally taken the view that something that only has a two-year ban for a first offense can't be that serious. The two-year ban itself suggests that the sport of athletics doesn't actually care too much.
In fact, if you listen to the comments of people like Ben Johnson, Jason Livingstone just recently, they have said that at the end of the day, no one cares.
When you look at the sport of athletics, and in particular track and field, see the declining audiences we have worldwide, and a decline in TV audiences even if the sport can get on television, it is pretty clear that the community, the world community who wants to watch athletics, is voting with its feet, and that it does matter.
This is the reason why the World Marathon Majors have absolutely taken a view that there is a no-tolerance policy with them for any of the major doping offenses. We will not invite people back.
RICHARD FINN: We'd like to have a little more clarification. Mary.
MARY WITTENBERG: Hello, everybody. Just to clarify, Dave gave a great background to where we're going with the World Marathon Majors.
As of now, any athlete that is issued a ban of over three months by the IAAF is not invited back to any of our races, World Marathon Majors, full stop. They are aren't eligible going forward for any prize money. They will not be issued special invitations. They will not be issued appearance money. They will not be given special starts.
Beyond that we are also advocating the IAAF, as Dave said, to look to extend the current two-year ban to a four-year ban. We're also urging the IAAF and working with them to campaign our national governments to make supplying and possessing drugs for use in the sport a criminal offense. Those are the sorts of things we're doing more behind the scenes. Our bottom line with the World Marathon Majors is once you're issued a ban, you're out of our races.
RICHARD FINN: Thank you, Mary.
Q. I'm wondering how you can ensure that drug testing and doping controls are going to be carried out consistently across all five, after we've heard yesterday at the IAAF meetings that three world records were not ratified because of problems with EPO testing. How can you make sure you maintain consistency?
DAVE BEDFORD: Who wants to answer that?
RICHARD FINN: Mary will take a first look, then Mark Milde will follow up.
MARY WITTENBERG: We all work closely with WADA on a world level and then our own individual agencies in our jurisdictions. In the United States, we work very closely with USADA, plan with them in advance of the event to make sure they have everything they need to ensure the process is clean for them. In addition, anything in our control we double-check to ensure that everybody on the staff understands the athletes are only offered closed bottles of liquid after the race. Our elite fluid stops are all policed, and only the athletes, the ones who put their liquids in, and otherwise we have a tight security system around the special fluids.
It's a full internal staff initiative to ensure that we are protecting everything the athlete has to drink or eat on the course. Then we work very closely with USADA to make sure they have everything they need to ensure the process goes well.
RICHARD FINN: Mark, would you like to add anything, since your race is first up?
MARK MILDE: Sure. As Mary said, we are working closely with each national federation to get the latest and highest standards for these tests, that we agreed upon each other, upon all of our five races that we will be doing at least 12 tests at our races, which includes the first three positions, men and women, then three more selected positions, people who took positions between four and 15. I believe in total we have 12 tests, which is more than is actually needed.
Yeah, we will also make sure that we do all the testing for all the drugs for which are known that can be - how shall I say? - the tests can recognize the traces of these drugs. I would like to remind you in 2001 we already started cooperating among the five of us, without being serious then, in introducing blood testing at that stage in order to get a handle on EPO doping.
RICHARD FINN: Thank you, Mark.
Q. I'd like to ask the three races involved about their decision to withdraw from AIMS, what the background and motivation for that was, what you hope to achieve through that.
DAVE BEDFORD: If I can go first.
One of my colleagues, Nick Bitel, was a board member of AIMS for more than a period of two years. He was concerned, and I won't go into any real detail, but he was concerned over issues of governance, over issues of the role that AIMS was actually having in the world of marathon running.
The board did not wish to make significant changes or, indeed, any changes significant or otherwise. We in London felt that in those circumstances, although we were a founder member, that it was not appropriate for us to belong to an organization that had a constitution that ignored it and worse. We saw in that situation it was appropriate for us to leave.
We have not left the sport of marathon running. We continue to be supportive in our race director programs of all other events, as indeed are New York and Chicago, who have also left. But there comes a point sometimes where if you can't resolve a matter politically and you are really concerned about what's happening at the core, the only thing you can do is to leave, and that's what we did.
RICHARD FINN: Mary Wittenberg from New York will add in a comment.
MARY WITTENBERG: I'd just add, this is a very important time for our sport. We see this as the moment to elevate it. Our tolerance for anything but excellence is no longer there. We're making bold moves, staring issues in the face, like the drug issue. This is yet another situation where Dave said it right, it would have been easier to sit back. But the right thing is to stand behind our initiatives to try to make the sport better. Our hope is that what comes out of this is actually a much more unified sport on a world level.
RICHARD FINN: Carey, would you want to add anything?
CAREY PINKOWSKI: As Dave mentioned, I think we were the second event to resign from AIMS. It was just some issues that were brought to our attention from London's chief executive, Nick Bitel. I mean, there was a window when those were to be addressed. They weren't addressed. We decided in support that we would withdraw from AIMS. My tenure of 16 years here in Chicago, we were a member of the event, but we thought it was in the best interest for us to support London and follow with our withdrawal from AIMS.
Q. I wanted to follow up on the question about EPO testing. Mark covered it a bit. What he was referring to is world records don't get ratified unless EPO is part of the testing. EPO testing is not always done because it's more expensive than just the regular battery of tests. Mark seemed to indicate that at least in Berlin every test includes EPO testing. I assume from that that the other events all that have ordered, when they order the testing, they make sure the EPO test is also done as well.
DAVE BEDFORD: From London's point of view, that is absolutely the case. In London we have moved away from blood testing beforehand, but we now take a urine sample from every single one of our contracted athletes in addition to the testing that we do on race day. The experts here believe that we have certainly the EPO line covered. If someone has taken part in our event and is using EPO, they will be caught.
Q. The question is actually on competition. One of the things we've seen in the marathon is very vibrant races, particularly in Boston and New York where time really doesn't matter, though the races where time does matter have seemed to follow the pattern somewhat of a track season that we have maybe 30 kilometers with pacers and then the competition, and the competition has not been really great as, say, in Boston as there have been no pacers. Have there been discussions focusing the races on competition? It's not really a championship like a World Championships or Olympics, the World Majors, but they are more of a competition than a race against time.
DAVE BEDFORD: There has been some discussion. I think that most of the events understand the point. I think that if you look, for example, at the record of London races over the last 10 years where my job is to put a field together that becomes competitive, has worked far more times than it hasn't.
The one area where I think all of us are a little bit nervous about is the move that we took in London to have men pacemakers in women's events, and that is certainly something that we have been discussing, and, of course, the pacemaking issue generally.
It seems to us on the general basis that providing pacemakers don't get deeply involved and overinvolved in the race, that a fast race will by and large produce a more honest overall performance and result than perhaps a slow 1500 meter race as an example where you go through three laps in 3:30.
At the end of the day, although we are a group of five marathons, we each of us have our own markets that we have to satisfy. The history of athletics is absolutely linked with the comparison of one generation to another through time, without timings in perhaps the way horse racing runs in this country I believe we would be a very, very different sport.
For us I think the opportunity we have a fast course, we have strong fields, and there is the opportunity from time to time to have a world record. As a former world record holder myself, I certainly think there is still a place in our sport for fast times and world records, but not at the cost of competition disappearing.
MARK MILDE: Maybe I can also add something to this.
We are usually one of the races which does have not these really deep fields. We need to concentrate more on several runners due to our budget and also to the competition there is in the autumn. We are looking at not only our big three marathon races, but also the Championships and also the Olympic Games. There are only so many world class athletes out there, so even if I wanted to, it's not possible to have a more competitive field than we already have.
But we also are trying to make it more exciting for the runners. This year, for example, we have Haile Gebrselassie, who wants to run as fast as he can. We also have somebody else in the race with Sammy Korir, who is the second fastest marathoner of all times at the moment. We also are trying, if it's possible, to have competitive fields, which was not the situation back in 2003 when Paul Tergat was running in Berlin and setting the current world record where there was not such a strong competition for this year.
GUY MORSE: Just to close that loop, I know we'll move on to the next question, but that really goes to the foundation of why we are together as a group of five. There's a true recognition of the individual events and what our priorities are. For example, in Boston it's all about the competition, not necessarily the time, no pacemakers, et cetera. Other races are different, and that's fine. We base this whole series on our differences and we're working to make sure as a group we do the right thing for the sport, yet we don't steal anything from our individual events, which make them all great.
Q. I wanted to ask, speaking of competition, if the fall races have begun to see some athletes making their race choices guided perhaps by their position in the World Marathon Majors rankings. Might be a little early for that, but have you started to see any signs of that?
MARY WITTENBERG: Yes, we definitely have seen that. When you look at the list of the current men and women on the leaderboard, you'll see the vast majority in our races this fall. I think a good example is Stefano Baldini. It's no surprise Stefano ran very well in London, ran a national record, then was committed for his country of Italy to run the European Championships. He won that in a strategic but challenging marathon. He immediately came out and said he'd like to run again in the fall, New York is a natural because it gives him the most amount of time of recovery. He's going to do everything he can to run. He'll make that decision in the next week or two. If it weren't for the Marathon Majors, this would be the year he would not run this fall. So he's an example.
Then as you run through the list, I know that Carey, Mark and I have heard from each of these athletes. They want to be in the mix as well as several others like Haile and Paul Tergat that are just dying to stake a place on the leaderboard.
CAREY PINKOWSKI: I definitely think there's an added incentive for athletes, when you are approaching athletes that you're interested in recruiting, that the series is an added value piece that helps in the process.
Q. Dave, can you say anything more specific, other than the drug issue, what the Code of Conduct you're looking for would include?
DAVE BEDFORD: It's really fairly basic stuff. We are trying to make sure that when an athlete comes to our events, that there is a common set of conditions that we as races are prepared to say we will deliver. There's a common set of responsibilities that we, the events, believe we should have. In other words, athletes perhaps who in the past from time to time maybe don't bother to show at a press conference or turn up late, we have difficulty in getting up-to-date information about a whole load of factors.
This is about us committing to the athletes and getting the athletes, and of course their agents, who are a key mover in this as well, accepting that we all have a responsibility for our sport, that this is our sport, that it's not just we put on the events and they have the athletes.
I think from the great support that we've had so far from all of the athletes' agents in the development of World Marathon Majors, we will start to see significant changes as we go forward.
It would be inappropriate at the second to start reading out some of those points, but I think as we go forward, people in the sport will naturally understand that the game has changed.
MARY WITTENBERG: Just by way of background, philosophically, what the whole Code of Conduct is set on is doing what we can to promote the sport with great integrity. So a number of provisions relate to the media side, to the fan side. Dave said it right, when you are talking about specifics, we're talking about sportsmanlike conduct, we're talking about punctuality, attendance at awards ceremonies which help develop the fan base, no wagers, no bribes, all the classic things you would expect in a Code of Conduct that aims to have a sport of integrity and one that we can promote around the world that we're seeking to do.
Q. Is the drug testing standardized throughout the five events? If not, do you envision doing this?
DAVE BEDFORD: We have committed already there would be a minimum amount of testing that each of our races will do, which is 12 tests at each marathon. That doesn't stop other marathons doing more than that.
All of us test for EPO as an example. There was an earlier question about that. All of us test for that. There have certainly been emails among ourselves, although no conclusion at the moment, about whether we shouldn't be extending the amount of testing.
I think at the same time as us calling for the IAAF to take a stronger stance, we also need to make sure that we aren't saying this is someone else's responsibility. I would imagine as we go forward that there would be an increased amount of testing, not because we believe that athletes in our sport are necessarily cheating, but to make sure that people know that if they are cheating they will get caught.
CAREY PINKOWSKI: I know in the U.S., New York, Boston, Chicago, our protocol is almost identical because obviously that's coordinated through USA Track and Field and USADA. As we talked about earlier, obviously we want to go further than that and increase those issues and maybe even deeper into the testing. There's been a consistency in the way that we do things in the U.S. due to the fact that we're all sanctioned by USA Track and Field.
GUY MORSE: Carey is right. We're pretty consistent across the board. But going forward, you can witness us becoming much more proactive and aggressive in this policy. We'll be lobbying, as David said, the International Federation and our own Federation to do more. We'll also look individually at ways to do more within our own races. The rules have changed and it's going to get more difficult but I think better for the sport in the long run.
DAVE BEDFORD: A postscript for me on that.
It seems for me the sport of athletics has a final chance to grasp this nettle. We really do hope that the amount of shock heard throughout the world from journalists, commentators who can clearly see the way our sport is going to go if we don't stem the tide here. We believe as bad as it is in some parts of our sport, there is a great opportunity here to send a new message and to turn that tide.
RICHARD FINN: Thank you very much. As a final wrap-up, we would like to thank everybody that joined us from both the United States and throughout the UK. We'd like to thank the five race directors for joining us on the call. Please contact all of the respective press officers for any follow-up questions.
As a look ahead, as the fall of the World Marathon Majors Series heats up, please mark off September 12th on your calendars. We are looking to have another World Marathon Majors conference call on September 12th, Tuesday, with athletes who will be running in the three fall races. Again, thank you very much for your time.
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