Can I Get Some Change?

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It’s been going on for a while now — tensions bubbling up between the professional track athletes and the sport’s governing bodies — but something struck a chord with the athlete’s late last night that caused an athlete Twitter rebellion straight from the Olympic village.

American 1,500-meter runner Leo Manzano wrote on Facebook: “I am very disappointed in Rule 40 of the USOC as I just had to take down my picture of my shoes and comments about their performance. This rule is very distracting to us athletes, and it takes away from our Olympic experience and training. #WeNeedChange.”

Right, Manzano cannot post a photo of his shoes to his own Facebook wall? Here’s Rule 40 for you.

Amid the PDF is: “Ambush marketers have, in the past, used their association with athletes to suggest or imply that they have an association with the Olympic Games. This undermines the exclusivity that Organising Committees can offer official Games and Team sponsors, without whose investment the Games could not happen.”

That statement ignores that the largest financial burden — by far — is on the London taxpayer just as it was on the Chinese government four years ago. The Games could — and have — very well happened without them.

Perhaps spurred by the Manzano incident, dozens of U.S. track athletes — including recognizable figures like Bernard Lagat, Sanya Richards-Ross, Lolo Jones, Dawn Harper, Jesse Williams and Lashinda Demus — took to Twitter to fire off a tweet demanding change. Back home, Dartmouth grad and two-time Olympic silver medalist Adam Nelson, is holding it down on behalf of the athletes as well.

The problem here in the U.S. is that the athletes are not supported financially by the governing body, which is not the way the rest of the world works. So the athletes — especially the ones who aren’t yet winning prize money — must rely upon their own sponsors and part-time jobs to eke out a living.

Yet come Olympics time, both the national and international bodies want to devour the entire pie. The rights’ fee, the ticket money, the advertising dollars… everything. And frankly, the athletes would likely be okay with that if those organizations — which rake in billions — didn’t bar them from a tweet of appreciation about those who footed their bill during the most high-profile moment of their athletic careers. For most this is their only chance to benefit financially from their sacrifices.

The lack of respect of the economic realities of the U.S. athlete — along with spending excesses of those who control the purse strings — makes for a maddening situation.

Now, I can’t always side with the athletes. There is far too much contract-breaking, fan-disappointing and competition-evading going on, which simply pokes holes in the athletes’ own credibility. The whole “word-is-your-bond” concept needs to be revisited.

But the athletes shouldn’t just demand change. They should get it.

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