In most sports, the victors hold hands with the spoils. In running, they can do it only under the table.
For the last year, guerrilla warfare has been raging between the Association of Road Racing Athletes (ARRA), a group that advocates open running and which established a professional running circuit in June, and running officials who prefer to abide by the old rules of amateurism, including the unspoken rule of paying athletes under the table.
Alberto Salazar, who broke the men's record in winning the New York City Marathon Sunday, called those officials "a bunch of thieves" and "a bunch of hypocrites" after a press conference today.
For the third consecutive year, sources say, officials of the New York City Marathon offered under-the-table prize money for top finishers. According to Don Kardong, the president of ARRA, the prize structure for the 1981 marathon began at $14,000 for the first-place man, with decreasing inducements going down 12 places, and bonuses for world, course and U.S. records. According to other ARRA sources, the prize money began at $8,000 for the first-place woman, continuing down 10 places.
Fred Lebow, director of the New York City Marathon, denies paying under-the-table prize money or bonuses.
When Allison Roe, who broke the women's world record in 2:25:29 Sunday, was asked how much she thought that victory would be worth, she said, "I don't know. I'm not 100 percent sure. Let's put it this way, I haven't received it yet. It's something I have to talk to the director (Lebow) about. When you try to find out about it, they're kind of evasive."
But asked if she would accept the first prize money and any bonuses that might go with it, she was anything but evasive. "Yes," she replied.
Roe, who received $4,000 for her second place finish in the Cascade Run-off last June (the first race on the ARRA circuit), did not become eligible to run in New York until last week, when she agreed to place her winnings in a trust fund supervised by the amateur New Zealand Federation. Only then did the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) and The Athletics Congress (TAC) clear her to run in New York.
At the IAAF council meeting in December, officials will consider a proposal to allow athletes to accept prize money as long as it is placed in trust funds administered by their local federations. Ollan Cassell, executive director of TAC, met this afternoon with 35 marathon race directors. They announced formation of an international marathon race directors association, which will press for establishment of a world championship in the event and for open running "under rules that will protect the amateur eligibility of athletes."
Salazar contended that TAC does not "help the progress" of runners.
In July, Bill Rodgers (the winner in 1976-79) said he would not run in New York. On Thursday, he said that financial arrangements with Perrier Inc. and Rooney Pace, an investment company, would make it possible for him to run. On Sunday, he did not show up.
On Saturday, he explained, his arrangement with Rooney Pace fell through. Had the two-year-long promotional deals gone through, he said, they would have been worth $30,000 total. But Rooney Pace would not guarantee full payment. "I got caught up in the money end of it," he said. "I wasn't in shape but I said I'll run because I need the cash . . . it was not a smart decision."
To those who have criticized him for his change of heart, Rodgers said, "I guess it did come down to the bucks, but it comes down to the bucks for everyone."
Salazar, whose world record time of 2:08:13 Rodgers called astounding, does not hesitate to say, "I do make my living off running. It (under-the-table payment) definitely takes place . . . That's something everybody knows. It (the amount) varies for different meets."
He said he would only accept prize money if it would not endanger his amateur status.
If the IAAF approved a system that allowed athletes to accept prize money and put it in trust funds, Salazar said, "Obviously, if they offered it, I'd be stupid not to accept it."
TAC officials, Salazar said, "are just a bunch of thieves."
Though he dislikes the current system, he said, all things being equal he would rather compete in a race where he got his money under the table directly from a race director than in a race where TAC controlled the money.
"I have no respect for TAC," Salazar said. "Why should I run in a race where my supposed prize money is under their control. They're just a bunch of hypocrites. Why don't they just make it open? They allow prize money, but only $1,000. They allow a trust fund, and say pick up your money in 10 years. Why not let the athletes have the money when they need it to live on? In the meantime, we're supposed to live like a bunch of bums.
"TAC is scared they're going to lose power," he added, a moment later, "they want to keep it under their control. What they want is a slice of our money. And they have no right to it."