Top athletes on alert after racist attack

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The Independent Online

Britain's top athletes were warned by their governing body yesterday to adopt tough security measures in the wake of the racist attack on the white boyfriend of black Olympic gold medal hopeful Ashia Hansen.

UK Athletics will hold secret talks with police over fears of further attacks on its leading track-and-field stars in the run up to the Olympics.

The governing body privately admits the large number of athletes enjoying mixed race relationships makes them a target for far-right extremists.

Ms Hansen's boyfriend, Chris Cotter, was told by one of a gang of five racist attackers: "We warned you not to mix with niggers," before being stabbed in the back and slashed across the forehead. The couple have gone into hiding as West Midlands police stepped up house-to-house inquiries in the Birmingham area where Ms Hansen, one of the world's leading triple-jumpers, lived.

Police have to decide whether the attack was an isolated incident or part of a wider campaign to target athletes whose profiles will inevitably be raised in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Sydney.

The attack on Tuesday is not the first against mixed-race couples with a high profile. In 1996, swimmer Sharron Davies and her then-husband, black former athlete Derek Redmond, were sent a letter bomb concealed in a video cassette after being targeted by the extremist group Combat 18.

UK Athletics said last night: "We want our athletes to be safe. We will look at ways of working with the police to make sure it doesn't happen again."

A spokeswoman for the organisation said: "In Olympic year everything does become so much more high-profile and there is so much more interest surrounding athletes. I just especially hope racist groups don't think that is something they can exploit."

Sources at UK Athletics privately admitted it is in talks with police to ensure leading athletes are properly protected. "There are many, many black athletes in the British team and quite a large number are in mixed-race relationships," said a source.

Ms Hansen has pleaded for the whole episode to be downplayed to allow her to concentrate on her Olympic build-up and to deprive the attackers of undue publicity.