Andy Norman

Athletics promoter and agent
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The Independent Online

Andrew John Norman, police officer, sports administrator and agent: born Ipswich 21 September 1943; police officer, Metropolitan Police 1962-84; promotions director, British athletic federation 1984-94; twice married (two sons, one daughter); died Birmingham 24 September 2007.

There was something eerily ironic that Andy Norman should die after a trip to Stuttgart, the same city where, 14 years earlier, he had set in motion the events that would ultimately lead to scandal and the downfall of a man who for two decades was deemed to be the most powerful in British athletics. A former Metropolitan Police sergeant, he rose to become Promotions Director at the British Athletic Federation. He collapsed at Birmingham airport on Monday, having spent the weekend at the World Athletics Final.

Norman's influence on international athletics can not be underestimated. With the help of the Guardian journalist John Rodda, who wrote the speech for him, in 1982 Norman delivered the address to the sport's leaders that persuaded them to allow athletics to go professional, after decades of shabby "shamateurism", a system of under-the-table payments which flouted the strict Olympic rules on amateurism.

Through the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s, there was not a single British athlete whose career was not in some way influenced by Norman. From Brendan Foster, now the organiser of the Great North Run, and Alan Pascoe, the deputy chairman of London 2012, through his close working relationship with Steve Ovett, to Steve Cram, Fatima Whitbread, Steve Backley, Linford Christie and Kelly Holmes, Norman managed the golden careers of three generations of champions.

When his client the triple jumper Jonathan Edwards struggled with his Christian conscience over whether or not he should compete on Sundays, it was Norman, and not God, who won the argument – with Edwards going on to become world record-holder in 1995 and Olympic gold medallist in 2000.

Born in Suffolk in 1943, Norman attended the local grammar school in Ipswich, where he showed a talent for 400m and 800m running. But he was never as quick of foot as he was quick-witted, and after he joined the Metropolitan Police in 1962, his sporting interests and organisational ability brought him to the attention of a senior officer who was also keen on athletics, Gilbert Kelland. Kelland would go on to become deputy commissioner of the Met; Norman became the force's youngest sergeant.

Kelland's influence and patronage – there is some evidence that there were also connections through Freemasonry – was important for the ambitious young officer, who had a brief spell in the 1960s on Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, but soon found himself operating as a uniformed desk sergeant at Bromley. At first through managing the Metropolitan Police Athletics Club, then volunteering to organise modest "open meetings" for the Southern Counties AAA up the road at Crystal Palace, all from behind his station's desk at Bromley, Norman gradually built his powerbase in athletics. Phone calls to his station were notoriously answered by Norman, "Athletics!"

"In an amateur sport, run by volunteers, it is the people with the most available time who end up in charge," Norman once said. And he made sure he always had plenty of time to take on any organisational jobs that gave him control of meetings and access to their budgets. Surrounded by well-intentioned amateurs, Norman was soon operating with few controls on his activities.

The meetings he staged, such as the Coca-Cola Invitational in the 1970s and 1980s, were terrific successes for the paying spectators, television companies, and especially the athletes. "He seemed to have an inside track on everything," recalled the American sprinter Steve Williams. "Andy was a godsend for many of the athletes who needed someone to connect the dots for them." Norman's influence spread internationally.

Unfettered, his less attractive traits began to emerge. There were suggestions that he could manipulate who would be drug tested at his meetings, and that he even had fellow serving police officers on hand to provide "clean" urine that could be exchanged if a star athlete might be "embarrassed". These allegations prompted the first of three official enquiries into the promoter's conduct, but the evidence ranged against Norman left Peter Coni QC, who chaired the panel, unable to take any disciplinary action against him, though he "remained deeply unconvinced by the man's testimony".

Money caused the next enquiry into the conduct of Norman, by then a full-time official of the British athletic federation. There were questions asked when a six-figure sum in cash – belonging to the British federation, earmarked to pay overseas athletes – went missing, presumed stolen, from a hotel room in south London and Norman had an ex-colleague based several miles away as the first on the crime scene, rather than unconnected officers from the local police station. The money was never recovered. "It was all right," Norman told one confidante. "It was insured."

Norman's handling of athletes, other officials and journalists was well known for his tendency to be bombastic, often bullying and sometimes racist. "Everybody was wary of Andy," Linford Christie said in his ghosted autobiography. "He was always fair, even if his methods were sometimes very direct."

Others were less convinced of Norman's fairness: "Andy was particularly heavy-handed in his negotiations and on many occasions would not honour the things he said," Steve Williams said.

Norman, who had been best man at Steve Ovett's wedding, was called to account again in 1989 when his former friend broke down in tears at the AAA Championships, accusing the meeting promoter of underhand actions over payments to get him to race against his career-long rival, Sebastian Coe. "Money was offered to me, and not to other athletes, and I felt as if I was being bought," Ovett said live on television. "Some people in the sport are trying to use it for their own ends, and they have to be stopped." It was clear that Ovett meant Norman.

The subsequent enquiry saw Norman stripped of any access to meeting finances but he remained in his job until he was implicated in the suicide of the widely respected Sunday Times reporter Cliff Temple. Temple was investigating the Chafford Hundred Athletics Club, a promotional scheme Norman had set up for Fatima Whitbread, by then his mistress, after her javelin career had finished. Norman warned off Temple and, as he had done with other journalists and officials, threatened to spread rumours of sexual misconduct. Temple recorded one of Norman's threatening phone calls.

This came to a head at the 1993 World Championships, staged in Stuttgart. Temple was already being treated for depression over the break-up of his own marriage, but Norman had begun his rumour-mongering. One day, the two men met when in the mixed zone. Norman brushed by Temple and was overheard by colleagues to snap, "Don't touch me, you fucking pervert".

Norman's threats were, according to the coroner's inquest, a contributing factor in the journalist's suicide in January 1994. The disciplinary enquiry conducted by the sport later that year saw Norman sacked from his job.

Norman remained involved in athletics, organising meetings in South Africa and Russia and managing individual athletes. There were suggestions that he retained some influence unofficially within British athletics, too, and calls for his formal return were common.

He divorced Gerd, his Norwegian-born wife with whom he had a son and a daughter, and married Whitbread in 1997, although at the time of his death Norman and Whitbread had been estranged for two years.

Steven Downes