Anthony Whiteman revives masters gripe for new generation

Tony tore up the track at Budapest, winning the M40 800, 1500 and 3000.

Masters track is the Rodney Dangerfield of sport: We don’t get no respect. This refrain goes way back. (I uttered it in the mid-1990s, when I began spouting off.) After Lahti worlds in 2009, Anselm LeBourne took up the cause — trying to rally elite masters especially to get free uniforms for worlds and the like. The upshot? Nothing. Now comes British Olympian Anthony Whiteman, the first M40 to go sub-4 outdoors in the mile. In a blog post for Athletics Weekly, Tony wrote after Budapest: “The main gripe among team members is the lack of recognition by mainstream athletics. The team kit that can be bought by the athletes is not sourced from UK Athletics. Some athletes are resourceful and have obtained official UK Athletics kit but have to wear the BMAF kit in events. Britain were among the most successful nations in Budapest so it is a shame that we do not project a single corporate identity in kit the athletes want to wear. No funding is available for any British participants.”

Here’s the AW post, in case the link goes buh-bye:

Having competed at the recent World Masters Indoor Championships, Olympian Anthony Whiteman says veteran athletes deserve more recognition

When he made his debut in an international veteran championships last month, Anthony Whiteman became one of the few athletes to do so having already made the top at senior international level.

The Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier reached the Olympic 1500m semi-final in 1996 and is the sixth quickest Brit in history for the distance with 3:32.34. However, unlike most top seniors, he has not completely hung up his spikes and has continued to perform at a high level.

Turning 40 gave his career a new lease of life and he became the first veteran sub-four-minute miler outdoors when he clocked 3:58.79 in 2012. Despite regularly turning out for his club, Budapest was his debut in a major veteran championships and he predictably took gold with ease in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m.

“The main gripe among team members is the lack of recognition by mainstream athletics…”

It was with some reservations that I entered the World Masters Indoor Athletics Championships in Budapest. I have shied away from age-protected events preferring to challenge my younger rivals in pursuit of sub-four-minute miles, M40 world records and national finals.

So to Budapest. My family has had some experience of this event. My mother, Ann Gray, was a silver medallist in the marathon at Rome in 1985. After she was selected at the BMAF marathon championships, flights and basic accommodation were provided along with a subsistence allowance of £1 per day.

She also received an official team kit for the event. The set-up has changed hugely from those days as in order to make the events financially viable, any over 35 can enter the wearing their national kit. Hence the athletes’ ability varies hugely across the events from the exceptional, gracefully ageing athletes – for example, I was happy to bump into old friend and 2002 Commonwealth 110m hurdles champion Shaun Bownes on the warm-up track – to hobby athletes.

The main gripe among team members is the lack of recognition by mainstream athletics. The team kit that can be bought by the athletes is not sourced from UK Athletics. Some athletes are resourceful and have obtained official UK Athletics kit but have to wear the BMAF kit in events.

Britain were among the most successful nations in Budapest so it is a shame that we do not project a single corporate identity in kit the athletes want to wear. No funding is available for any British participants and while I do not believe that a Lottery-type funding should exist – even though this would adhere to legislation designed to prevent age-discrimination – I do believe that competition assistance should be provided within an age-graded qualification structure.

When you speak to veteran athletes they often speak humbly about being revered within their own communities and being role models not to children but to other adults. They follow good lifestyle and nutritional choices, adhering to government advice not to decrease their burden on society but in order to make a final, jump a national record, or throw a season’s best. We are a society in which the vulnerable are protected, whether it is self-inflicted or not.

But here we have a group of individuals – and this goes for all organised masters sports – that should receive a wee doff of the cap from one of those government quangos to say, “keep it up and here is a little bit of help.”

My experience in Budapest was very positive indeed with standards at the front of most finals being very high. The involvement of former senior international athletes can only improve the credibility of these type of events and help them move forward and provide challenges for masters athletes of all abilities.

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May 14, 2014

11 Responses

  1. Anthony Treacher - May 15, 2014

    Anthony Whiteman is correct in that there is a lack of respect for masters athletes. But it is endemic. There are the athletics ageists, there are the internet armchair warriors and in our midst are the embittered middle-aged club coaches and officers who are envious of our trim waistlines. Forget them. Ex-elite masters athletes are our role models. Anthony Whiteman is respected and appreciated. But like all of us, he must pay his own way.

    On the subject of free or subsidized national running kit. An elite senior athlete may be accustomed to getting free kit from being selected and rightly so. But there are many more people in a national masters athletics team than in a national senior team. Are all masters athletes to get free kit? Does free kit comprise a vest and shorts? A free track suit? What results criteria must I fulfill to get free kit? Who should pay for my free national kit? Who is going to send me the kit? No. Free kit for masters is simply too much for any body to finance and administer. Forget it.

    British BMAF have got it exactly right. I select myself to run at masters championships. So I order and pay for my official BMAF running kit from the BMAF-recognized private supplier. Who otherwise should pay for my BMAF kit – the British taxpayer?

    The reason why a BMAF athlete must have the BMAF vest is because – unlike the admirable USATF Masters set-up within the USATF national governing body – BMAF is not part of the British national governing body UK Athletics (UKA). So a British masters athlete cannot compete in the UKA vest, pay for it or not. And that is perhaps just as well, because the UKA British national athletics uniform changes practically every year – usually with increasingly bizarre, penible and risible, distortions of the Union Jack. And I am sure we British masters do not want to (cannot) change our running kit every year – with the predicable outcome for some countries’ masters athletes that they unfortunately compete in a hotch-potch of old and new national kit at international masters championships. No names. No pack-drill.

    Anyway, the kit situation on the track is excellent as far as the British masters are concerned. British masters athletes in their uniform BMAF national vest and shorts are consistently among the most easily identifiable masters athletes at international masters championships. And that is largely thanks to the admirable efforts of the British Team Manager, my chum Maurice Doogan.

  2. Nicholas Berra - May 15, 2014

    The USATF program is a racket because they make certain style uniforms mandatory for participating masters athletes simply as a way to dump excess/old inventory at full price. When a desired model of uniform (distance singlet, for example) is no longer available in a certain size, instead of restocking the inventory to meet the needs of the athlete they simply tell him or her to select another size or model. Distance runner being forced to wear a sprinters singlet – they don’t care. You usually wear a size medium but they only have small and large? Pick one, tough luck. We are a captured audience to them – you would think there would be some effort to equip (at the athlete’s expense) our “national” team in gear that they are most comfortable in (and probably perform best in), but that is not the case. When something runs out the bean counters are probably tickled – they avoid selling it at clearance prices and the shelves are freed up for new stuff for their “real” athletes…

  3. Mary Harada - May 15, 2014

    Nicholas Berra writes what I have been thinking for years – I was once offered a size large singlet – because they were out of anything smaller – I ordered a small – a large came in the mail. Anyone who knows me would have to laugh as the large makes a nice nightgown for me. It has been somewhat better the past few years but the first round of left-over USATF Olympic gear was certainly a mess – and finally they had copies made when it was clear that they could not outfit all who needed the official singlet for an upcoming WMA meet.(the Spiderman outfits).
    And we have to sign something that mandates that we not cover up the Nike symbol as well. Fortunately we can get more than one cycle of WMA meets out of some of the singlets – but I must say I really dislike the current lot of stuff. I do not want to buy it but my singlets from past WMA meets are no longer grandfathered in.
    Before USATF decided to use masters who compete at the WMA meets as forced customers for the left-over Olympic gear – we were pretty much on our own – and I have a closet full of the stuff from that era. Some of it was good – probably I was one of the few who liked the Sporthill windsuit – some of the singlets and jackets were so poorly screenprinted that one cycle through the dryer by mistake and the printing just peeled off.
    But we do look better than before, a woman in the stands at the WAVA meet in South Africa asked me why athletes from the USA – such a wealthy country – in her words – all looked like a bunch of rag pickers! We were wearing whatever track suits we owned – if we owned one – or old sweats – while the South Africans were all dressed in official warm-ups and had matching singlets and shorts for competition.
    I agree with Anthony – we are not going to find our tax dollars being spent to outfit us – and the gear we can buy from USATF is much better than the mess we had in the past. But I for one would prefer if the Masters could select what we wanted rather than being treated like orphans with the left-overs with no choice and sometimes no sizes that fit. Nike dos not care at all – we are captive shoppers – and obviously USATF does not care when they run out of sufficient sizes when the demand heats up a couple of months before a WMA meet. They give a slightly better discount once you enter the WMA meet – but by then your size is gone.

  4. Robert Thomas - May 16, 2014

    I would have to slightly disagree with Nicholas. As Mary stated, before we were able to purchase the old Olympic uniforms for our World Championships. The uniforms that masters athletes wore were not of the best quality and I remember those uniforms. We didn’t even have a official uniform and athletes just showed up with anything that said USA on it.

    I’m grateful that we now have those uniforms and by the demand that there is to trade for our uniforms at the end of the World Championships most countries are to.

    I realize that there are times when individuals don’t get the size that they want, but what everyone has to realize is how would the National office know how many uniforms to order. The Olympics and the Elite World championships have a set number of athletes that they send to every championship and I think it something like 60 per gender. We have anywhere from 130 in Budapest to 1700 in Sacramento. So from an inventory stand point how do you prepare for that. These uniforms that we get are from the last Olympiad. Which were designed up to 8 years ago and you want Nike to keep producing a style from 8 years and then you want it for free. It will never be a perfect system, but it’s getting better.

    Maybe you saw a recent email blast stating that starting in 2017 with the new agreement with Nike. Masters Athletes will get free uniforms when they are competing in the World Championships. At this point no one knows what that means. Is it just going to be a singlet and shorts or the whole kit.

    I for one do not disagree that Masters athletes have the biggest buying power and once companies realize that they will have a very loyal following. So maybe that’s where we need to start. For countries that do not have any support from there governing bodies when it comes to uniforms. Let’s start a conversing among ourselves and start working with a uniform supplier to assist in designing uniforms for countries that don’t have access to there countries official uniform. I have designed several uniforms for the club that I run for and I can tell you, it’s possible to design a nice uniform reasonably priced. The more you buy the less expensive they are. With the diverse background we have among the Masters community. We can take things into our own hands. We are our best allies in finding support for our sport.

    With that said the National governing bodies first priority is to develop elite athletes to win medals at the Olympics and World Championships. The second responsibility is to develop young athletes to fill in the pipeline for future Olympians.

    Also I remind everyone that when the allotment for those uniforms was contracted, Masters athletes were not using those uniforms for competition.

    Even with the problems that have been identified in the preceding post, we have it a lot better than most countries. The only country that I’m aware of that has a better uniform policy than the US is Germany where there athletes have the ability to obtain the current Olympic uniform, but they still have to pay for them. No country gives Masters Athletes free uniforms and most don’t get the current or past Olympic uniforms. At least not the larger countries. Some of the smaller countries offer limited support, but there only send a small number of athletes. I’m sure if we only wanted to send a select few athletes to represent the USA we could offer some sort of support. The problem with that is if we did that, WMA couldn’t make enough money to put on the meet. A large percentage of the funds to host our World Championships comes from our entry fee. Just my two cents.

  5. chuckxc - May 17, 2014

    “We have anywhere from 130 in Budapest to 1700 in Sacramento. So from an inventory stand point how do you prepare for that”

    Robert, really ??? Isn’t there a lead time of 2 or 3 years where we know the location ?

  6. ncberra - May 19, 2014

    Robert – the “support” you describe from USATF regarding our uniform policy is simply them unloading their old stuff on us forcibly by making it mandatory attire. Am I missing some sort of “support”? What you propose for other, less fortunate nations, is to come up with a uniform design and order it – why don’t we start with doing that here at home? I’m guessing your plan for these other nations does not include ordering them sizes and styles they don’t like, then charging them $78 for a singlet, does it? You yourself stated you have designed and produced uniforms for your team – they are very sharp, I’m sure the members like their fit and feel, and I bet they are reasonably priced since you are ordering them in bulk. How hard would that be to do for the US Masters team? I understand things are better now than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but that doesn’t make them right. A uniform doesn’t have to be fancy, and doesn’t have to mirror our US National team’s – heck, I’m not even asking for it to be free. I just don’t think it’s too much to ask to be treated like a dues-paying member, not a dumping ground.

    If one of our children came home with a uniform from their club track team that didn’t fit or of a style that wasn’t commensurate with their event, and then told you that they owed over $100 for it, we would be on the phone with the coach in a minute wondering what was up. Why do we accept this for ourselves? Nike didn’t become who they are without being able to fill an order for a couple hundred runners, especially since with this agreement they are now our new best friend. As for your prediction that “Masters Athletes will get free uniforms when they are competing in the World Championships. At this point no one knows what that means. Is it just going to be a singlet and shorts or the whole kit.” – I will believe it when I see it…

    Your passion and experience is obvious, I just think your loyalty and allegiance to USATF is clouding your judgement. We deserve better, and as you stated it would not be that hard to fix things if we are afforded the time, energy, and funds that we as masters deserve. I am not saying that we be a high priority, or even a medium one, just that are treated as card carrying members and not a captive audience. See you out there…

  7. Robert Thomas - May 19, 2014

    I have no allegiance to anyone. I just know that Masters was not a factor when the uniform agreement was signed. I also know that, compared to what we had before, what we have now is better. It’s unfortunate that you or anyone else was not able to get the uniform that you preferred. We did however have some athletes that ran in older uniforms because they were unable to get the proper size as well. I’m not sure if this was your first Worlds or not, so I am unaware if you had access to an older uniform, nor do I recall hearing about you having issues with your uniform. I myself purchased my uniforms early. Usually before they offer the additional discount for athletes competing at Worlds to avoid this problem in particular. I also usually purchase additional uniforms for myself and would have gladly let you borrow one if I was aware that you had something that you were not happy with.

    Did you make your problems known to Gary, our Masters Chair or Phil Greenwald, the team manager. If not, then I’m not sure anyone can fix the problem if they are unaware of it. I do know from the Annual meeting last December that it was discussed with the Staff over apparel that there were some pieces that were low on inventory and it was decided to pull the uniform items from the general website in a effort to avoid any shortages for the Masters athletes competing at the Indoor Worlds.

    Just from my short time in dealing with ordering uniforms for my club, I can tell you, there is a long lead time on ordering apparel, usually 10-14 weeks, at minimum and that’s if the manufacture doesn’t have any problems getting there hands on the required material to make the uniforms. If they do, then you could be looking at even longer delays. I just ordered. 160 pieces for my team for Outdoor Nationals. We hope everything goes according to plan and we have them by July for Outdoor Nationals.

    So lets look at the schedule for Worlds. The next three are decided. France, Perth and Daqeu. To make sure you had enough lead time to ship uniforms to athletes, you would need 14-16 weeks. So four months before France. I would need everyone who thinks they might want to go to France to place an order and pay in full the total amount of their purchase. About 60-75 percent of the people that go on these trips are that organized the rest are not. I have had people call me the week before a World championship, stating they do not have a place to stay, do I know of anyone who is looking for a roommate. I even had several people come up to me at the meet stating that they had traveled to Worlds and did not have a place to stay and did I know of anyone with an extra bed, but you expect people to order a uniform 14 weeks in advance.

    We cannot expect the national office or anyone for that matter to be able to predict how many athletes will need uniforms with the athletes themselves are not organized enough to make sure they have a place to stay when they are traveling to a foreign country.

    We even have athletes that arrive the night before their event and have to have the team manager check them in so they can compete the next morning and your expecting these same athletes to be organized enough to order their uniform in a timely fashion.

    So as you can see it’s not a USATF issue, it’s an athlete issue. By no means is it perfect and I would like to work towards a time when we could get our uniforms for free and make sure everyone gets the uniform that they prefer. I would suggest that Nicholas, ChuckXC and anyone else that has some input, meet me during the USATF outdoor Nationals to discuss suggestion for improving the current system. We can always use more help, but things don’t always move a quickly as we would like. The apparel business is a very large and slow moving structure.

  8. Bill - May 21, 2014

    It is not hard to get a singlet and put USA on it. NIKE does not need that much lead time for a basic singlet….Shorts are blue, NIKE has lots of blue. Not hard!

  9. Bill - May 22, 2014

    Masters could even have to option of paying an extra $10.00 to get a singlet as part of their USATF dues. Here is a NIKE Singlet (Men- womens probably the same) retail $35.00, wholesale is probably $18.00- NIKE and USATF can “eat” the $8.00 for as as they give USATF.

    STOCK 47 453186 v
    $35.00 SIZES:
    XS, S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL
    Lightweight race day singlet. Warp knit mesh body fabric with flat seam construction for a smooth
    fitting style. Contrast taping at center back and shoulder seams. #3 embroidered Swoosh design
    trademark on front left chest. Body width: 21.5”, Body length: 28.75” (size large).
    Part of Stock Embellishment Program

  10. David E. Ortman (M61), Seattle, WA - May 24, 2014

    USATF, to date, has not contributed a dime to US masters athletes attending WMA Championships. On the contrary, USATF COSTS athletes by requiring them to purchase and re-purchase expensive NIKE hand-me-downs uniforms.

    Requiring US athletes to buy NIKE hand-me-downs in order to compete is stupid for a number of reasons. One, most of us wear sweats, so the only time you would see a running “top” is during the actual competition. Second, why have an official “top” when WMA hands you a bib number that is so big it covers up any country indicator.


    and let me know if you can tell what country these ladies are representing.

    The WMA rule below makes NO requirement that athletes have to wear any particular singlet or vest, only that it be approved by the national masters body. (See below). US athletes should be able to run, jump, throw, and dance in anything they want.

    When it comes to the relays, it makes sense to have team members wear the same type of “tops.” A ten dollar t-shirt that says “USA” should do it.

    It was extremely aggravating at Porto Alegre to see some US athletes competing in the old “spiderman” uniform, when USATF said to leave them home in the closet and the rest of us had to add to our “shopping cart” and costs.

    WMA Rule 143 Clothing, Shoes, and Number Bibs
    143.1 In WMA Championships all competitors must
    wear a singlet or vest that is approved by their
    national masters/veterans body.
    In WMA Championship races where team events are
    contested, it is mandatory for any athlete wishing
    to be considered for a team, to wear a uniform
    clearly identifying the country that he represents
    as accepted by the Track Referee.

  11. Anthony Treacher - May 27, 2014

    David, easy one that. Sweden (my friends Kristina and Ulla) and Ukraina.

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