Athletics: Arnold anger over 'threat' to finances

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The Independent Online
Malcolm Arnold, Britain's chief coach, threatened to quit yesterday following suggestions by the Sports Council's chairman, Sir Rodney Walker, that Lottery funding might be withheld from athletics if it fails to sort out its administrative difficulties.

Arnold submitted a bid to the Lottery Sports Fund last month seeking an annual amount of pounds 5.5m to see British athletics through the next eight years. But the resignation of the British Athletics Federation's executive chairman, Peter Radford, against a background of internal dissention, has caused concern at the Sports Council, where the details of the major world-class performance scheme announced in November are currently being worked out.

Referring to comments by Walker on Radio 5 Live on Thursday night, where he said that BAF risked "having the tap turned off" if they could not satisfy the Sports Council over their administrative arrangements, Arnold said: "I am getting to the stage where I've had enough. Unless something is done soon, from the sport itself and the Sports Council, there will be another departure from athletics. It's so difficult being the person in the middle of the vice. I feel beleagered, torn between two worlds.

"We have superb athletes and coaches. That side of the sport is no problem for me and I want to continue working with it. But there are people trying to tie our hands and feet, threatening to beat us and mouthing threats. I wonder sometimes if they want athletics to be prosperous and successful. If they have the trust in me and other people in the sport of integrity, it's time to stop the posturing.

"We are already into a new Olympic cycle. If you do not water the roots, the plants might die. It would make a huge problem in the future. You cannot simple go out and buy new seedlings."

Walker said the Sports Council had already demonstrated that it was prepared to "put its foot down" when it saw problems within governing bodies, clearly referring to the recent censures of the British Cycling Federation.

"We are watching closely the developments in athletics. Whether or not it would be helpful to starve them of funds at this stage is a debatable question. I wouldn't want to threaten any sporting body. I don't think threatening anyone gets the best out of people."

This has clearly been the case with Arnold, a dedicated and highly respected coach to athletes including the world high hurdles record holder Colin Jackson. He has been in close contact with the Sports Council in past months and has had to make some alterations to his original bid.

The present situation is a reflection of two understandable but differing perspectives. The Sports Council is acutely aware that huge amounts of public money have to be stringently accounted for. Arnold, who sees and talks to athletes every day, knows just how desperately funds are required.

The full eight-year business plan is expected to be submitted to the Sports Council this month. But the Council is known to be uneasy with the BAF structure - particularly the 54-strong Council which can vet all decisions - and it is possible that the sport may not get all it asks for straightaway until this difficulty is addressed.

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