What makes sport compelling to watch? What drives us to compete against each other? I would argue that we come back to watch the same sports over and over again because of the thrill of the unknown. Until the moment the runners cross the finish line or the clock runs out, anything can happen, and often does. The critical element that preserves this tension is the presumption of fairness. We want a fair fight, where all competitors have a legitimate shot to prove themselves worthy of the victor’s trophy.
This is the fundamental purpose of governing bodies in sport. Their charge is to create a system of rules that guarantee, to the greatest possible extent, a level playing field for all participants. But as we’ve seen time and time again, the corrupting influences of money, power, and international politics cause many sporting organizations to forget their duty to the athletes and fans. Instead, they use their positions to enrich themselves and advance their agendas.
This seems to be the case with the latest controversy surrounding track and field. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) seems powerless or uninterested in curbing the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs, but intensely interested in enforcing their conception of the feminine ideal. Most recently, they crafted a set of rules that appear to be directly targeted at South African middle-distance champion Caster Semenya.
Returning to the show this week to weigh in on the situation is Nick Symmonds, 2-time Olympian, entrepreneur, and outspoken advocate for the rights of athletes. He and I dive into the principles behind the IAAF controversy, including what a level playing field should look like. We also discuss his recent retirement from professional running, and how his next adventures will take him to the top of the world seven times over.