Athletics: Athletics sinks into turmoil as BAF goes bust

The British Athletic Federation announced yesterday that it has run out of money, leaving top athletes unpaid and future competitions in jeopardy. Mike Rowbottom, Athletics Correspondent, heard the whole sorry story at the Federation's Birmingham HQ.

The future of British athletics was thrown into turmoil last night with the announcement that the main governing body is insolvent.

The British Athletic Federation, unable to meet an immediate deficit of pounds 530,000 and projected running costs of pounds 4,000 per day, handed itself over to administrators at 2pm yesterday.

It fell to the unfortunate Dave Moorcroft, newly installed as BAF chief executive, to explain what he described as the federation's "catastrophic" financial situation. "I am devastated by what has happened," Britain's former world 5,000m record holder, said.

Britain's leading athletes, including their team captain, Roger Black, and Colin Jackson, have yet to be paid for their competitive efforts this year. And the immediate clampdown on any further outgoings means that the domestic competitions BAF was promoting for next year are now open to question.

Black, who was a prime mover in setting up the British Athletes Association last year, expressed concern for the future of the sport's rising talents.

"I am concerned about my short-term financial situation, but it is more a question of what will happen to younger runners like Mark Richardson, Jamie Baulch and Iwan Thomas. What is their future?

"When you are 24 you live and breathe the sport. If you want to win medals, you have to be a full-time athlete. Athletics has always provided that way in the past. They deserve to be in a sport where they can still be on the world stage."

Jackson, whose dispute with the previous BAF chief executive, Peter Radford, was at the heart of the 1995 disagreements, denied that athletes had contributed to the current situation by asking for too much in appearance money. "You can't blame us," he said. "If the Federation are willing to pay us, we are worth our market value."

Three years ago, the BAF, which was set up in 1991, had reserves of pounds 1.2m. Since then, however, sponsorship and television revenue has dwindled - sponsorship income was down by 45 per cent this year, while unpredictable costs, including legal fees, have risen steeply.

"Revenue has fallen, while our costs have remained at a fixed level," Moorcroft said. "We are in a very competitive market with a lot of other sports."

The contract to show domestic British athletics was not renewed by ITV last year - the company was alienated by the dispute over appearance money, which kept competitors such as Linford Christie and Colin Jackson out of key meetings in 1995.

In 1996, the BAF got pounds 1.5m from ITV. This year the Federation began a four-year contract with Channel 4 worth pounds 3.3m.

The question of whether Channel 4 will now have anything to show is now the responsibility of Moore, Stephens, Booth, Wright - the insolvency firm managing the BAF on an interim basis. They must decide within the next few weeks how best to satisfy the BAF's creditors, and whether any parts of the business can still be viable.

The jobs of all 36 BAF employees, including Moorcroft, who took up his pounds 70,000 per year post on 1 October, are in jeopardy. That number also includes all eight national coaches, including figures such as Bruce Longden, who guided the careers of Daley Thompson and Sally Gunnell, and Carl Johnson, who has coached Britain's world triple jump record holder, Jonathan Edwards.

Yesterday's announcement will not affect the National Lottery award recently made to the sport within the World Class Performance programme - pounds 1.4m for a coaching development plan and pounds 1.1m worth of individual subsistence money. That funding is ring-fenced.

But the foundations to the sport now look in danger of crumbling away. For the past two months, a shortfall in funds for BAF's regional coaching scheme has been met by the Amateur Athletic Association of England, at the cost of pounds 90,000. However the AAA, which has reserves of more than pounds 1m, has not offered further assistance.

"The reaction from them is that there is no reaction," Moorcroft said. "A lot of people within the sport will be looking very closely at this. I think everyone ought to be thinking to themselves, `have I been part of the process that has caused this downfall?' "

Moorcroft said the costs for the legal action being brought by Diane Modahl had had a big effect. "Not having to pay that would have eased the situation, but it wouldn't have solved the problem of the budget. The forecast for the future was negative - that's the stark reality.

"Maybe because of this awful situation there will be a re-structuring of the sport. In the future, it will be less about dependence on revenue and more about Sports Council funding."