Taking Bureaucracy and Cronyism to the Max

At this point of the morning shakeout’s existence it probably comes as no surprise to regular readers that I’m leading off Issue 48 with last Friday’s Washington Post exposé on USA Track & Field CEO Max Siegel’s unethical leadership of the organization and questionable spending habits. And why wouldn’t I? The amount of bureaucracy and cronyism that exists amongst the sport’s governing bodies at both the national and international levels is blatant, sickening and killing the sport from the top down.

I’ll get back to Max’s foibles in a minute, but just who are our sport’s leaders looking out for? I’ve written about the IAAF’s corrupt, self-serving ways in previous issues of this newsletter (here and here), so we’ll leave those alone for now and focus on the ongoing domestic issues that didn’t see public light until last Friday. In the case of USA Track & Field, which oversees “children competing at the youth level to senior citizens competing at masters level — and to field America’s track team at international competitions, including the Olympics,” one could easily be convinced that a 23-year contract extension worth $500 million with the sport’s largest and most powerful sponsor is “a game-changer for the sport and what USATF will be able to offer all of our constituents,” as Siegel stated in 2014.

But when you dig deeper, as The Post did, you learn that it was a game-changer for Siegel, who got a $500K bonus after the contract was signed despite not negotiating the deal — which, let’s be honest, ultimately serves the longterm interests of the aforementioned sponsor intent on preserving their perpetual stranglehold on the sport in this country. It was also a game-changer for the two former executives of said sponsor who negotiated the deal on behalf of USATF and received a fat commission check totaling $23.75 million for their previously unmentioned handiwork. (That $10,000 bonus each Olympian got for making the team this year doesn’t look like much of a game-changer now, does it?)

Siegel’s issues extend far beyond “the big deal,” however. The first-class frequent flier and recently appointed chair of IAAF’s marketing commission, who has threatened to “f*ck anyone up” (his words) that goes after him personally and regularly expenses a lot of things to USA Track & Field that fund his other interests and help him “save on taxes” (also his words), also gave six figures worth of work without entertaining other bids to a marketing company “that once billed itself as ‘a Max Siegel company.’”

I could go on rehashing the questionable and perhaps illegal actions of the guy who heads up track and field in this country but I’ll stop there since The Post did a bang-up job covering it all. Siegel needs to explain himself and stop deferring his comments to Jill Geer, who is quickly running out of feet to put in her mouth while trying to defend her boss’s decisions. Then Siegel needs to resign, along with most of his board, otherwise it’s only a matter of time before it’s “game over” for track and field in the United States.

This post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.