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This week, we spent some time with WikiProject Athletics which covers a variety of athletic competitions including running, jumping, and throwing. Started in May 2009, WikiProject Athletics is relatively young among the sport projects. It is home to 3 Featured Articles, 4 Featured Lists, and 18 Good Articles. The project maintains the Athletics Portal and various lists of articles that either do not exist or need considerable improvement. We interviewed Trackinfo and project founder Sillyfolkboy (SFB).
What motivated you to join WikiProject Athletics? Have you coached or competed in any athletic events?
Trackinfo: I've competed, officiated and administered for the sport for well over 40 years. The sport is a built in element to my life, I've obviously read a lot about the sport and have been a journalist covering the sport at the international level for decades. I started editing when I noticed facts that I knew (and thought should be common) were missing. I've gotten more involved as I have discovered the immense lack of understanding of our sport amongst even people who have positions of authority. Between vandals and deletionists, I feel like watching wikipedia is as much a defensive effort as it is adding accurate content that the world should have access to.
Sillyfolkboy (SFB): I initiated the Athletics WikiProject in May 2009 after developing an interest in the sport through the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I wanted to create a collaborative space for an underdeveloped topic area and was inspired by the equivalent French and German projects. My desires to both write about and participate in the sport grew in tandem – I have twice competed at the Great Manchester Run, albeit more for charity and leisure than a demonstration of athletic prowess!
Are some aspects of athletics better covered on Wikipedia than others? Are there any glaring holes in Wikipedia's coverage of athletics?
Trackinfo: I edit the aspects I know and understand. I am sometimes driven to research outside of my base, but its hard to do without background that I do not possess. Frankly it seems like there are only a handful of us who are making significant contributions, I see the same handles. We each have our obvious pools of knowledge, but outside of that core group, we have to depend on unregistered editors to fill in the gaps. Such contributions are inconsistent.
SFB: As Trackinfo rightly points out, the quality of the coverage of athletics varies greatly and is largely dependent upon whether a person has dedicated time to the topic. The article for the mile run, one of the sport's most definitive events, is only a year old. The more historical aspects of the sport are our biggest blind spot: great athletes of the 19th century such as Lon Myers have only recently been covered, while the stories of George Seward of Lewis "Deerfoot" Bennett are still untold. There are some things for the WikiProject to celebrate, however, such as the much improved coverage of specific competitions and statistical lists.
Most of the project's Featured and Good Articles are biographies of athletes. What are some challenges faced by editors trying to improve athletics-related topics to FA or GA status?
Trackinfo: I'm not motivated by trying to elevate any single article to a higher status. I don't even know how that is decided.
SFB: Some of my first athletics efforts were aimed towards taking articles like Usain Bolt to good article status. I soon came to realise that coverage of athletics on Wikipedia was sparse. I decided to focus my time on general article creation and expansion, rather than refining a smaller number of articles. My last Good Article came in late 2009, but since then I have created many hundreds of substantial articles on athletics and expanded countless more.
The peer-review mechanisms for distinguishing articles are useful, but inherently time-consuming. Other sports projects such as, WikiProject Football, can rely on a large base of editors to cover current events, allowing others time to writing extensively on specific topics. For our project, time is so limited that if one or two editors focused on one article, then some current events would simply not be covered. SFB
How difficult is it to obtain images for athletics articles? Are there any specific pictures that the project is searching for?
One of many quality images donated by Erik van Leeuwen
Trackinfo: The administrators of the commons have taken their role to protect against copyright violations (copyvio) completely overboard. I have submitted my own work and they deleted it because of the fear of copyvio. I have signed their paperwork multiple times--years of this. Finally the most recent contributions have not (yet) been challenged. For the wider ramifications of getting images of historical figures or just ones from other sources, the obstacles to putting up good images are almost insurmountable.
SFB: Images of athletes prior to 2000 are particularly rare. It is difficult to get high quality images even for major names like Michael Johnson and Jan Železný, and hard to get any at all for people like Bob Beamon. It is much easier to get images of modern marathon runners, given the rise of good quality personal cameras and the athletes' proximity to the public. The number of images of track and field athletes in recent years has been greatly boosted by Erik van Leeuwen, an athletics photographer who has donated many high quality images to Wikimedia Commons. I'm very grateful for what he does.
Does WikiProject Athletics collaborate with any other projects? Are there ways the various sports and games projects could aid and reinforce each other?
Trackinfo: Directly we interface to Project Olympics. That's obvious. When we were going through a wave of deletionism (the BLP unsourced attack), I learned some good sources for Olympic information, so that technique assisted in rescuing many Olympians in other sports as well. All sports collaborate on WP:NSPORTS which has served to define a commonality of notability across all sports. Participating in that guideline has let me to become familiar with the issues in other sports.
I think English Wikipedia could benefit by better integrating the project and portal spaces. The French Wikipedia, for example, displays clear and prominent portal links on their Main page. Their Sports portal is ten times more popular than ours and provides intuitive links to the project and category spaces, as well as an all purpose "Café" for discussion on the subject (a scheme I have tried to mirror on the athletics project). English Wikipedia's sports and games portal is buried quite deeply, discouraging development and usage.
Which articles will be the most vital to visitors drawn to Wikipedia after watching media coverage of major athletic events like the upcoming European Athletics Championships or the Summer Olympic Games? What needs to be done to prepare these articles for the spotlight?
SFB: Visitors are most driven to the main competition page and the relevant athlete biographies. For the larger events, we have event-specific articles which readers use to view the results. For example, the article on the Men's 100 m final for the 2011 World Championships in Athletics received nearly 10,000 views on the day of the final. There are six or seven editors who regularly provide to-the-minute results for major competitions. Following this news-style service, these event sub-articles still receive dozens of hits a day years afterwards.
It is comparatively easy to prepare competition articles, laying out the medal tables beforehand, but building athlete biographies can be more challenging. At each major athletics event, 24 men's and 23 women's champions are crowned, and the intensity of the sport means there are many new faces each year. Sometimes I take a guess at who the top performers are going to be. Christian Taylor's biography was written less than a month before he became triple jump world champion.
What are the project's most pressing needs? How can a new member help today?
SFB: Updating the results of major competitions is a mammoth task in itself and help is always welcome in that respect. The articles on athletics events like the 10,000 metres leave much to be desired. Athlete biographies can be updated and expanded; Melaine Walker and Brittney Reese are among the best ever in their respective events, but their achievements are covered in little detail. World champions like Bekele Debele remain red-linked, while former Olympic champions can barely merit three sentences. Some international competitions, such as the European Cup in Athletics, have little historical coverage and there are so many missing champions that I've made a worklist. It's a topic area ripe for development.
Anything else you'd like to add?
SFB: Since 2009, the athletics project has presented some unusual challenges, particularly because of the American/British language barrier. Much time and discussion has led to a new article: Athletics (U.S.). Both that title and the project's main topic title, Athletics (sport), remain less than ideal but have allowed the space to develop articles on the distinct concepts.
On top of this, we also now have a separate article for just Track and field, which had to be created from scratch. Athletics and track and field had been dealt with in one article – Athletics (track and field). However, the relationship between the two is similar to that of gridiron football and American football in that the latter is more prominent and constitutes a major part of the former, but the former is a broader concept. That situation meant most athletics efforts were wound up in arguments over title names and the actual topic matter suffered greatly. Article quality has really improved in the three years since the titles have been stable. It is the English language which fails us – no other Wikipedia has encountered these issues because their words are unambiguous.
The largest Wikipedia copyright investigation brought the project to a standstill for months as one of the most prolific editors was involved. To save the content, countless hours were spent analysing articles for infringement. I checked at least 2000 entries; it may be higher but the sheer workload makes it hard to determine.
The international nature of the sport is another challenge as source material is often in the local language. Arabic and Japanese tend to be difficult. Also, many of our members are not native English speakers. It can lead to some odd usage of prepositions, but the enthusiasm is refreshing nevertheless!
Trackinfo: The mention of the copyvio story brings up some bad memories for me to comment on as well. I too spent a lot of time checking articles by this individual and I will grant that a lot of it was copied. But the vast majority of his work was statistical--reformatting of public results. I submitted that all of that work was perfectly valid--that we editors needed only to review the articles by this editor for descriptive prose that he also copied and was a clear copyvio. Instead of accepting my analysis and my efforts to check articles, my own credibility was impugned by just one editor who maintained a position of authority. Out of thousands of contributions I have made, that editor found two articles that "didn't sufficiently" rewrite the story from the original sources (of my outside research). All of my efforts in review of those article were reverted. This is one of a continuing series of situations that give evidence to the poor management structure of Wikipedia. It is like most small community organizations, where a small group of ideologues rush to take over total control to make sure their agenda can be carried forth. Here there is a small but powerful oligarchy of administrators who control this site. They can exert their control because there is a behind-the-scenes world of wikipedia that the majority of the population does not venture into and is ill equipped to fight a battle within. From their back rooms, they are the deciders of what happens here. As long as you play with them by their rules, they don't bother the masses very often, but if one of them gets a burr up their butt, they can close ranks. It only takes a handful, but they gang up and slaughter initiative very effectively. Their senseless abuses of power has bruised my nose more than once and I am certain has driven away the contributions of many other potential editors. Fearless Leader decides what you and the rest of the world are allowed to know via Wikipedia.
WikiProject Athletics is the first in a series of sport-related projects the WikiProject Report will be highlighting in the next two months to celebrate major sporting events and summer pastimes (winter for our friends in the south). Next week's project will show off its need for speed. In the meantime, tune up your engine in the archive.