Athletics: BAF forced to regroup after jostling at the bell

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The Independent Online
British athletics, which submitted its detailed bid for National Lottery funding a year ago, did not take kindly to the recent accusation that it had false-started.

After hearing last week's long-awaited Sports Council announcement on Lottery funding for people rather than buildings, Peter Radford, the British Athletic Federation's executive chairman, remarked ruefully that the image of being jostled at the bell seemed more appropriate.

Athletics, just like every other sport in this country, will almost certainly have to wait until March to get its hands on any money from the pounds 40m World Class Performance scheme. It will be nice when it happens. But, in the meantime, there are a lot of athletes and coaches struggling along.

"Most of the first year of the next four-year Olympiad will have gone by the time money is beginning to make a difference to athletes in the field," Tony Ward, the BAF spokesman, said. "There is a feeling of frustration, because people like Angie Thorp, Iwan Thomas, Jamie Baulch and Ian Mackie need to start preparing for next summer's world championships now."

There is brighter and more immediate news in the offing, with a new four- year TV deal with Channel 4 on the verge of completion. A record four- year kit sponsorship by Reebok, worth pounds 1m a year, gives British athletics further reason to be cheerful in the medium as well as the long term, and two more companies are renewing their backing for televised meetings.

It all points to brighter times for the BAF, which reported losses of pounds 256,000 in 1995 and has suffered double that this year. Channel 4 are to show meetings next year after ITV's decision to end a 12-year association amid complaints of below-par events.

"We have been in discussions with Channel 4 and the BBC and we are on the brink of a new deal which will be announced immediately," Ward said.

"The best news for us is, whichever channel comes in, it will be a four- year contract. That gives us a stability we haven't had for four years. The same thing applies in the Reebok deal.

"It reflects the fact that so many of our athletes are young, in their early twenties, and are going to be making an impact for the next four to five years.

"It is all encouraging but you have to put it into the context of recent losses. Three-quarters of a million pounds is a large chunk out of our reserves, and we have to press ahead with restructuring. Even with these latest sponsorships, we are well short of the annual income of pounds 5-6m in our halcyon days."

The latest plans have been laid during difficult times, following the widespread criticism of Britain's performance in Atlanta. "The sport felt that by the time the athletics started in Atlanta the media - especially those who did not travel out there - had concluded it was going to be a bad Olympics," Ward said, "whereas we believe our record in athletics was average to good."

Once the TV deal is announced, probably next week, the federation will allocate venues for next year's fixtures. This season's outdoor total of six main televised events is likely to be reduced by one or two to counter criticism that the quality of domestic meetings had been diluted last year.

The only fixed point right now is the combined world championship trials and AAA Championships, in Birmingham from 12-14 July. Locations still have to be established for the two major meetings, the IAAF Grand Prix I and II events.

The biggest decision concerns the flagship Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, the subject of an ownership battle between the BAF and their South of England AA. It could result in the meeting switching to Sheffield or Gateshead, with Sheffield's 25,000 capacity at the Don Valley Stadium making it favourite.