Athletes in action: Track stars seek ability to increase income

(Photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA TODAY)

A great piece of news hit the sports wire this week with the decision by major track and field stars to unionize so as to better their money-making ability as Olympians.

The group includes Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, who has joined forces with Americans such as fellow sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross as part of the Track and Field Athletes Association.

At major issue is the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 40, a restriction introduced this year that barred Olympians from working for non-Olympic sponsors from just before to just after the London Games.

I say to those track union folks, “Go guys, go.”

It’s time for the athletes to stand up and be able to count more money. Across the sports landscape we see all-powerful management seeking concessions. For example, the lockout kings — the NHL owners — want to break their players by rolling back income while the just-back-to-work NFL referees have been forced to concede pension benefits.

Why should athletes and related employees in successful businesses accept less?

The Olympic track stars are led by American middle-distance man Khadevis Robinson, who tells ESPN:

“We’re really just trying to move the sport forward in a professional way. At the end of the day, that’s all we’re trying to do, and our hopes are that the USOC and IOC don’t see it as something negative, because we don’t. But it’s time, it really is.”

A small fire raged at the tail end of last summer’s Games when photos of Michael Phelps’ Louis Vuitton sponsorship were leaked days before the closing ceremony, in apparent violation of Rule 40. Imagine that — someone trying to tell the most decorated Olympian ever — 22 swimming medals — that he can’t cash in while everyone from the IOC, to the USOC, to American swimming officials, to NBC are making money off his success.

As Robinson also says: “We want to find more ways for the sport’s professionals to make more money, not the opposite of that.” Hey, isn’t that what the Olympic movement is all about?

— Bob Kimball

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