US sprint hurdler Jason Richardson at the IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)
USA’s 2011 world 110m hurdles champion Jason Richardson is one of the most profound and articulate athletes in the sport. Here the sprint hurdler talks about coming to terms with the realities of the business side of the sport.
The business world
“Beyond an athletes’ ability to train and perform, another layer to track and field – which is rarely discussed – is the business side of the sport regarding coach exclusivity, sponsorship, branding and sponsor relationships.
“The business of sport is not something you can push against; it is how the sport survives. It has allowed me to be a professional but it is something you have to navigate. It has definitely been the most difficult task I have faced in my time in the sport.
“For many athletes coming out of the NCAA system into the professional, it can be a difficult transition. Often things don’t pan out as you want them to. If you are really lucky, you will find a quality professional coach which you will have for many years. If you are fortunate to find this, you really want to bottle that magic.
“Now I know at the end of 2013 I had to renegotiate my shoe contract and the new one I signed was starkly different to the old one. It was the right decision for me, but because of this it meant I needed to make some changes and I needed to rediscover the same magic elsewhere that I had enjoyed in LA.
“In terms of dealing with the business side of the sport, I had to really ask myself what I wanted out of track and field. Some athletes want to make money, others want to win a lot of medals, and some are simply content to get out there and perform. The business portion impacts each of those. What was really important to me was doing the best I could in every situation, being respectful to the coaches, learning from them and fulfilling my sponsorship in the best way I could. This was to provide my framework for dealing with the business side of the sport.
“The business of the sport can be difficult for some athletes, but it is the reality and it allows us to be professional. For me, it has been more a reminder as to how the real world works and as much as I love track and field, I can’t run forever. It has allowed me to have a good understanding of how my post-track career might look and for that reason I am very grateful to track and field.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF