Greetings, all:

If you met him on the street, you'd call Al Sheahen shy. He doesn't get outwardly 
emotional. He doesn't show off. From his modest apartment in Sherman Oaks, California, 
he quietly goes about the business of publishing and editing the most important 
publication in the world of masters track.

Although Sheahen no longer owns National Masters News (it was sold to Runner's World 
publisher Rodale Press several years ago), NMN is still his baby. The official world 
and USA publication devoted to masters track, long-distance running and racewalking 
has been a staple of the movement for decades (with its main editorial office in 
Eugene, Oregon). It has changed hardly a whit in terms of design and organization all 
those years.

But the August 2001 issue of NMN is a breakthrough. I'd even call it historic. Al 
Sheahen has broken his silence.

For the first time, NMN has shown some guts -- sharply criticizing the world governing 
body of masters track, now called World Masters Athletics.

In a long and carefully argued column titled `Which Way, WMA?' Sheahen blasts the 
conduct of the Brisbane world meet and rips to shreds WMA's (formerly WAVA's) pretense 
that it has athletes' interest at heart first and foremost.

My summary of Sheahen's points:

1. Brisbane, host of the recent world masters championships, made $11 million from 
visitors to 
the meet but went on a cost-cutting binge that horrified many athletes and broke 
promises to WMA. 
Among these broken promises: no free shuttles between hotels and venues, few signs to 
guide athletes, pathetic reporting of results at the meet, and a cancellation (in 
effect) of closing ceremonies. "The promised singing of `Waltzing Matilda' didn't 
happen," Sheahen notes.

Sheahen quotes Gilberto Gonzalez, a leader of the 2003 Puerto Rico masters world meet, 
as saying that Brisbane's attitude was: "The Games are over, we've got you're money, 
goodbye. It was awful; we won't do that in Puerto Rico."

2. WMA's biennial convention didn't permit debate on the merits of the three bid 
candidates for the 2005 world meet. In the end, San Sebastian, Spain (smack in the 
middle of Basque terrorist country and with the `weakest presentation' of the three 
cities) was awarded the 2005 meet ahead of Helsinki and Sacramento.

Sheahen wrote: "Both Helsinki and Sacramento were treated shabbily. The three bidders 
were forced 
to wait all day and then allowed only 20 minutes each to present their cases. These 
bidders were 
high-minded, serious people who spent a fortune to prepare and come here. Yet WAVA 
brushed them aside with an arrogance that seemed to say: `We've got plenty of bids; we 
don't have to be nice to you or anyone.' Such an attitude may well come back to haunt 
WMA in the future. The Helsinki representatives reportedly stormed out, saying they 
would never again submit themselves to such treatment and humiliation."

3. Secrecy has become epidemic in WMA.  Reports of the WAVA site-review teams (whose 
trips the athletes paid for) were never made public. An American delegate was thrown 
out of three standing committee meetings. WMA still hasn't disclosed details on why 
the 2003 world meet was yanked from Kuala Lumpur. And "at the Women's Assembly, it was 
a virtual secret whether a new chairperson would be chosen by the Women's `Assembly' 
or the Women's `Committee.' Or would Bridget Cushen 
continue as chair for two more years? Or four more? No one knew."(Eventually a floor 
vote was forced, with candidates for women's rep forced to compose two-minute speeches 
on the spur of the moment.)

4. Officiating at the meet was generally fine but showed a dark side. Eight runners -- 
three potential gold medalists -- were DQ'd in the heats of the 400. In the relays, 17 
teams were 
DQ'd for minor infractions. Earlier, WAVA had threatened to DQ people who walked in 
the marathon.

Sheahen wrote: "Officials should be told these are not the Olympics, but a friendly 
gathering of 
older athletes. Rules should be followed, but fairness and common sense should be 

5. Delegates voted that WMA adopt IAAF anti-doping rules -- but made no effort to 
consider possible medical exemptions for older athletes who take drugs on banned list 
that are crucial to their healthy lives. Sheahen wrote: "A motion that masters should 
be freed from strict controls until more data are available on age-required medication 
did not even reach the floor for discussion."

6. WMA voted to mandate team uniforms for future world meets, which Sheahen called "a 
180-degree turn from the early days when WAVA deliberately tried to stay away from the 
nationalism that has long permeated open athletics."

7. VIP functions were everywhere -- giving average athletes the clear impression they 
weren't welcome. Sheahen wrote: "At least one WAVA Council member was rightfully 
embarrassed by the ostentatious display. The whole thing smacked of elitism -- royalty 
vs. the rabble and an `us' vs. `them' mentality, exactly opposite of what WAVA is 
supposed to be about."

Sheahen blames some of these problems on the Eurocentric tilt of WMA. But without 
saying so, he also indicts its leadership -- WMA President Torsten Carlius of Sweden 
and Executive Vice President Tom Jordan of the United States.

Ex-WAVA Treasurer Sheahen ran for the WMA presidency in 1997 at the world meet in 
Durban, South Africa -- and lost to Carlius. National Masters News also notes that WMA 
-- whose two-year budget is now $205,000 -- will soon cease its $300 monthly subsidy 
of National Masters News (which has traditionally mailed a free copy of each issue to 
all 130-plus affiliate nations).  WMA instead will put that money to use toward 
improving its weak Web site at

Sour grapes from an election loser and a penny-pincher?

That would be too easy a conclusion. But I've known Al for five years and had many 
conversations with him on the masters movement, and he strikes me as someone dedicated 
to improving the lot of older athletes at the expense of his own `standing' in the 
upper echelons of masters track. 

However, I do think that losing the WMA subsidy (a pauper's stipend) has freed Al to 
speak freely. Sheahen no longer worries about biting the hand that feeds him.

I've asked Al to e-mail me a copy of the column for posting on my Web site (since what 
he has to say deserves a worldwide audience and not just 7,000-plus subscribers mainly 
in the United States.) I'll let y'all know when it's online.

I'll also let Sheahen's courageous conclusion to his `From the Editor' column speak 
for itself:

"The founders of the masters program . . . believed in friendly competition, equality 
and fairness. They were opposed to nationalism, elitism and secrecy. Much of what they 
pioneered still remains. But much of what they opposed has crept into the program.

"It's not the same anymore. Maybe we should be grateful that any public votes at all 
are taken in the Assembly. Perhaps we should be content that no one refers to the 
President as `His Excellency,' as is de rigeur in IOC circles.

"Maybe everything is OK with the athletes and even with many voting delegates. After 
all, many athletes said they had a good time in Brisbane. Maybe no one cares, as long 
as there's a track, a starter and a timer at a finish line.

"Well, we should care. The news WMA should take a good, long look at itself. It should 
ask itself what it is doing and where it is going. After all, nothing is forever."

Ken Stone

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