Athletics: BAF has competition for control of TV

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A sport set in turmoil over recent months by political in-fighting, faces a crucial trial at the annual meeting of the British Athletic Federation in Birmingham today.

A bid by the South of England Athletic Association to loosen the governing body's grip on television and sponsorship deals threatens to fragment the sport. If the SEAA wins the vote of club members in the meeting, and the decision is subsequently endorsed by the British Athletic Federation's Council, it could undermine athletics' case for receiving Lottery money.

A BAF application for annual funding of pounds 5.5m within the recently established World Class Performance scheme is being considered by the Sports Council, which has made it known that it wants to be assured the sport is marching in step before turning over large amounts of public money.

Since the BAF's executive chairman, Professor Peter Radford, announced his resignation in January, the UK Sports Council has been consulting with BAF officers over restructuring the domestic sport's management.

"We feel very strongly that the BAF needs to take a good, hard look at its structure," a Sports Council spokesman said yesterday. "Any break- up in an unco-ordinated, haphazard way which leaves different bodies doing different things, we don't think would be particularly helpful.

"That isn't an endorsement on the other hand, of what the BAF is currently doing. The fact that one element of the sport wants to break away shows the sport as a whole has got a major problem and needs to sort it out."

The SEAA, which has spent the week canvassing for support from the 600- plus clubs in its area, is recommending that individual associations should be able to conduct their own television and sponsorship arrangements for their own meetings.

The action has been prompted by two main factors. The first is the removal of the British grand prix meeting to Sheffield from its traditional venue of Crystal Palace, where it has regularly generated funds which the SEAA has passed to local clubs.

The second factor is the adverse reaction within the sport's traditional elements to the way Channel 4 is covering athletics within its new four- year contract.

If the proposal is carried, the South would be able to set up a one-day meeting to help fill a prospective shortfall of pounds 70,000.

It may also lead to the Amateur Athletic Association of England withdrawing its 117-year-old event from BAF control - which wants to combine it with the World Championship trials - and staging it on different dates.

There has been speculation that in such circumstances, the AAA would turn to the disgraced former British promotions officer, Andy Norman, to help assemble athletes, although such an appointment would cause disquiet in athletic - and political - circles.