Athletics: BAF under siege as clubs revolt

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The British Athletic Federation's hopes of getting the sport to sing from the same hymn sheet were drowned out by caterwauling at the annual meeting in Birmingham on Saturday.

The clubs voted for new measures which would allow them to promote and stage their own fundraising televised meetings.

As an expression of frustration with a leadership which is seen by many to be remote and incompetent, it was powerful. The two proposals referring to television rights, put forward by Haringey AC and the South of England Athletic Association, were approved by 545-16 and 477-302 respectively.

But the BAF Council, which next meets on 7 June, has the power to turn down the proposed measures.

There were warnings from several parties that if the sport were to allow national or regional associations to mount their own television meetings it would alienate Channel 4, which has just agreed an exclusive four-year deal to televise British athletics.

The Council must now consider whether there is a compromise which would involve restricting the possible numbers of such enterprises and obliging the parties involved to offer Channel 4 first option.

The heart of all this dispute lies in the distrust which exists between the old established factions of the AAA and South of England AA, and the professional officers at the BAF, which was established in 1992.

The BAF needs to reassure sponsors, television and the Sports Council - which is currently considering a pounds 5.5m Lottery application - that the sport is moving in the right direction.

The AAA and SEAA feel marginalised and increasingly anxious about retaining their traditional sources of funding.

Tony Hadley, representing Birchfield Harriers, lamented the separate staging of an AAA indoor championships and world indoor trials within a fortnight of each other earlier this year, a state of affairs which might well be repeated this summer.

"It is symbolic of the war that exists in our sport at the moment," Hadley said. "It is doing untold damage to our image when we should be focusing on the wealth of new talent that is coming through. Instead the sport is tearing itself apart."

As the bickering went on, Peter Radford, the departing executive chairman, leaned further and further back in his chair, his face darkening with suppressed frustration.

Steve Gledhill, the departing BAF financial director, commented: "There are too many vested interests in our sport, too many people who are throwing down an anchor to halt progress... it is time to move forward together."

High time.