I like world news. I attribute this to my love of the late ’90’s-early 2000’s television show The West Wing. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Even though it’s no longer on the air, you can catch the entire show on Netflix.
Anyway, I like world news because it makes me feel part of something far bigger than myself or my own little corner of the world. I like to see how little known stories about people in far away places and the events happening in all corners of the globe fit into the bigger puzzle, or as The West Wing episode “Hartsfield Landing” calls it: “look at the whole board.”
I also believe it’s important to elect a president with a strong foreign policy. I’m sure in this election year we’ll be visiting political PR events from time to time, but that’s for another day.
Today, I’d like to share a story that came across my path. It probably won’t get a huge amount of press coverage and will have very little public outcry, at least in most circles.
In addition to being a big presidential election year, it’s also the year we celebrate athletes all over the world during the Summer Olympics. This year’s Summer Olympic games are being held in Rio deJeneiro, Brazil.
Like anything that has to do with the Olympics, there’s always some controversy or PR crisis. It’s bound to happen. Whenever you get over 200 people involved in an event, there’s differences of opinions swayed by any number of psychological and sociological factors. Imagine what happens when you’re dealing with over 200 governments with varying political, cultural values and social norms. It’s a crisis waiting to happen every step of the way.
The latest of such controversies involves Kenya.
According to Reuters, Kenya, the leader in the sport of long-distance running, is risking a potential Olympic ban due to failure to comply with drug-testing qualifications.
Reuters reports that in the past three years, more than 40 Kenyan runners have been banned for “doping”.
Doping has become such a problem for the Kenyans, that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) placed Kenya on notice: Shape up or you’re out of the Olympics!
Not only has Kenya not met guidelines, asking for an extension to get their runners clean, the WADA reports that there are allegations of bribery by a high-ranking Kenyan governmental official within Kenya’s legal system.
So far, Kenya is taking the sweep-it-under-the-rug approach to it’s public relations regarding its celebrated runners.
Looking “at the whole board”, I see all sorts of PR issues happening if Kenya is ultimately banned from the Olympics over doping allegations and potential proof.
On the highest levels, I see the need for PR pros with the following clients to be on alert: Kenya, The Olympic Committee, the WADA, and corporate sponsors of potentially guilty Kenyan runners.
But there’s potential PR crisis for lesser-known organizations.
I happen to live about ten-minutes away from the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, NY.
Utica also happens to host a world-renowned 15K road race for distance runners called “The Boilermaker“. In addition to local running fanatics and weekend warriors, The Boilermaker attracts distance runners from all over the world seeking to train for larger events like the Olympics. There are different categories and races, but the main event features what we like to call “Elite Runners”.
Guess who mostly dominates that particular category? Yup, the Kenyans.
Take a look at the top winners of The Boilermaker for the past three years alone.
As someone who likes world news, looking at the whole “board” and a PR pro, it’s easy for me to imagine all the possible ways that an Olympic ban on Kenya can hurt so many entities and organizations, even local ones.
I’m sure The Boilermaker officials aren’t the only local organizations that might have a public relations crisis to handle if Kenyan runners are found non-compliant with WADA regulations. I’m certain all major long-distance road races will have to deal with this eventually.
I’m also sure a lot of people in the long-distance running circle will be left shaking their heads saying “I don’t know. Kenya? What’d you do to us?” when they are left to deal with their own PR crisis.
In fact, I would almost guarantee it. Reuters reported that if Kenya doesn’t comply, and soon, they will be made an example of for the world, meaning they will not hesitate to completely ban Kenya from the 2016 Summer Olympics.
My recommendation to The Boilermaker officials and officials of all road races where Kenyan runners are considered “Elite”: be on guard for the potential fall out. It might even come down to past race results being challenged, and that’s a whole other PR ballgame!
Up for discussion
- Would you advise Boilermaker and other road race officials to have a PR plan in place if Kenyan runners are found non-compliant with doping regulations?
- Would you take a “Get out ahead of the story” or “Wait and see” approach to the situation?
- What tools would you use to implement your plan?
- Can you think of any other potential casualties from this situation, other than local races, corporations, Kenya, the runners, The Olympics, and the WADA?
All respectful and constructive comments are welcome and needed.