The Slow Death of Cross Country

Cross-Country-Run-in-Vivobarefoot (1)In much of Australia the sport of cross country running looks to be suffering a slow death. The analogy I’ll use to describe the state of affairs is that it’s like a smoker who subsequently gets lung cancer and then continues to smoke and experience an agonising and drawn out demise. All the while many on the sidelines look and express to said individual to give away the fags and make a few lifestyle changes to help their battle. In this example, our cancer sufferer is the sport and administration (IE State and national governing bodies) and those on the outside looking in, offering help and seeing the glaringly obvious ways to fix the situation, are the plethora of educated and skilled coaches, athletes and passionate supporters of cross country running.

This weekend’s national championships are the best example of the killing off of the sport by the powers that be. Firstly, there’s the choice of date – clashing with the World Championships. Therefore many of the top runners didn’t have the opportunity to compete. Yes, there will always be issues with finding the perfect date, but this is about as far from ideal as you can get.

Next you have the lack of incentive to race. Yes, winning a national title is nice, but everyone knows that the top athletes want to race the best, and while the fields were arguably the highest quality they’ve had in a couple of years (Which is not a particularly hard thing to have achieved) there’s no reward for the effort. A win here does not come with a payday of a monetary kind nor selection for an upcoming team. Given 2016 is not a World Cross year, maybe if the brains trust at AA offered a financial incentive or selection for the top three to compete at another worthwhile event (Perhaps part funding for a major domestic or international road race) then they would attract better fields.

Thirdly, what on earth has gone wrong at Athletics NSW? Two runners in the open men’s race is an appalling level of support for a national title that is easily accessible for people from the nation’s most populous state. South Australia and Tasmania had more runners! Good governance, promotion of the event to its members and building a culture within the sport that sees the value of competing in cross country and appreciates the historic relevance, will go a long way to improving the situation.

It seems at a state level Victoria is leading the way. Their events are well supported with a passionate club culture and runners from outside the state look to their events with envy, and many plan ways to travel to Melbourne to compete at one of the various state titles. In NSW, it seems the management care only for building a false membership base created by a host of inactive folks that did a tiny fun run in a country town but have no club alignment nor will they be presented with a pathway to continue their involvement in the sport. Maybe somewhere there gets a pay bonus based on revenue garnered from sponsorship deals and fun runs as opposed to increasing the actual paying annual members or improving the quality of the sport?

Will the situation be rectified? Unlikely. Athletics Australia are largely inept and the athletes aren’t empowered enough to be able to force change. There’s no common sense approach to the administration of the sport. Instead it seems to be a case of the blind leading the blind, all slapping each other on the back as they fly from junket to junket to watch major championships that we continue to do poorly in. The paper-pushers, selectors and management of Athletics in Australia are a cancer on the sport as a whole and cross country looks to be their first victim.