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Running without hypocrisy

Sometimes it seems that everybody and his sister go running. Or they form crowds of 50,000 (plus millions more on TV) to watch running, such as the third breaking of the mile record in ten days last month. It's hardly too much to say that running has become a kind of metaphor of our day, with the superstars rising from a vast field of people quietly surpassing themselves. So it is welcome to see fresh concern for lifting a cloud of hypocrisy that sometimes also threatens to be a modern metaphor. It is the hypocrisy of some "amateur" runners being paid in all sorts of ways for their crowd-drawing appearances.

The fresh concern has been displayed in Rome, site of the third World Cup Games, which have become second only to the Olympics as a track and field event.The weekend's competition needs to be followed by something more than analyses of who won what and why. The need is for further consideration of either reducing the commercialization warned of in Rome as the International Amateur Athletic Federation met there before the games, or acknowledging and allowing in public the kind of payments made to some athletes.

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The latter could eventually mean turning to "open" events, including both amateurs and professionals, as tennis did. Such a step has been favored by top runners like marathon champion Bill Rodgers. It is thought that this would be of benefit to good but not spectacular competitors, who now do not get the gravy they see bestowed on a few whose pressence may guarantee the gate.

Should the athletic federation finally implement payment proposals, there would be no assurance that the Olympic committee would follow suit. Runners openly allowed to accept payment in one venue might find themselves excluded from the Olympics. The present large gray area would take time to be dispelled.

So it's not as easy as pulling on a pair of running shoes and starting around the neighborhood. But the thing for the athletic powers that be is to get off the mark toward clarifying the situation. There's a wonderful atmosphere in the idea of amateurs running not for profit. But, if the amateurs are not really amateurs anyway, the atmosphere would be better without the hypocrisy.

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