[This first appeared on INFLUENCE on Friday 4th August 2017]
One of Britain’s greatest ever athletes, Mo is what we all want Britain to represent; committed, multi-cultural and a lot of fun. Yet the man who made the nation stand up and scream in joy at athletics in 2012 is in danger of losing the race before the starting pistol has been fired.
Unless you have been living in a cave during the last few years, you’ll know that Mo has faced repeated questions and often spurious allegations of doping. Most of the allegations are not about his actions, but those within his prestigious training group in Oregon, led by infamous coach Alberta Salazar.
The questions have clearly affected Mo who has worked with a consumer PR agency in an attempt to uphold his consumer facing brand. But Mo and his advisors have taken a wild gamble ahead of the World Championships.
According to the respected journalist Ben Bloom they are refusing to face questions from the media in advance so he can instead focus on performance. In doing so, their bet is the majority of people don’t listen to or care about the allegations that have been swirling – fairly or unfairly – within athletics for years.
Needless to say, the media are up in arms. They have legitimate questions to ask yet Mo won’t answer them. This is a grave error and one that misunderstands the severe risks to his running legacy.
Yes, his advisors are right that most people don’t understand nor care about the doping allegations. But the problem is that these people are the floating fans, the people that will move on to the next star in a heartbeat. The core supporters, hardcore athletics fans and the running community, are well aware of what is happening and would much rather hear Mo effectively deal with the questions – as he did when similar ones were raised in the past.
Those who point to his need to focus on performance fail to realise that if he does not deal with these issues then people will continually question how he won and insinuate wrong-doing. What is the point of such a short-term win? And, there is the practical reality that he could have dealt with this a few weeks ago under embargo, and thus not be distracted ahead of the World Championships.
I have written before about my support for Mo, but my frustration at how he fails to communicate to what should be his core support, the running community. Of course, they support Mo, but I suspect they would much rather see a win for Callum Hawkins in the marathon or Laura Muir on the track, athletes who live and train in the UK and whose transparency makes them much more relatable to everyday runners.
My advice to Mo is simple: he should take the opportunity after his race tonight to front up. He should not leave his post-race media commitments until he has exhausted all the questions from journalists. And, he must stop saying “I have never failed a drug test”. It is what Lance Armstrong said for goodness sake! If someone told him to use that phrase he should sack them immediately.
Tonight, I will be in the Olympic Stadium with 60,000 other people to watch and support Mo. He is an amazing athlete who has repeatedly delivered on and off the track for Great Britain. I just hope his media advisors stop thinking in the short term and start to think seriously about how to protect his long-term reputation, and thus his athletics legacy, so he will always be remembered as that.