The new contract follows the BBC's humiliating loss of Test match cricket to Channel 4 less than two weeks ago. The corporation is believed to have paid around pounds 3m a year for the five-year deal with UK Athletics 98, compared with the pounds 1m a year that was previously paid by Channel 4 under a contract secured in 1996.
The athletics contract, though, is small beer compared with the loss of the pounds 103m rights to cricket, and a Channel 4 spokesperson said: "the BBC wouldn't have touched it with a barge pole two years ago."
In 1996 Channel 4 won the contract unopposed.
Alan Yentob, the BBC's director of television, said yesterday: "This is a real relationship and marks a long term commitment to a sport which has broad appeal across age, gender and culture," adding that athletics had the potential to be a sport which "gripped Britain".
The contract covers both indoor and outdoor events from 1999 to 2004. Mr Yentob said that the loss of the BBC's cricket coverage has enabled it to accommodate athletics coverage in schedules more easily.
Asked whether the audience levels for the sport would compare favourably with cricket, Mr Yentob answered: "When was cricket a ratings winner?"Reuse content