Athletics: Blow to British events

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BRITAIN'S MAJOR international athletics meetings have been relegated.

At a press conference here yesterday, Istvan Gyulai, secretary general of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, confirmed that this season's meetings at Sheffield and Gateshead, formerly of grand prix status one and two respectively, would be reduced in status this year because they failed to generate sufficiently good results in 1998.

"Performances last year were below standard in both cases," said Gyulai, who accepted the re-grading would make it harder to attract top performers and sponsors. "If you are an athlete you are more ready to accept an invitation to a grand prix one meeting and it is more likely to get sponsorship and television coverage."

If the five Golden League meetings represent the Premiership of the IAAF season, the grand prix one meetings correspond to the Nationwide First Division. Sheffield thus finds itself in the Second Division, and Gateshead, which is reduced to a permit status, in the Third Division.

It is an untimely blow for UK Athletics, whose launch six weeks ago was marred by the news of Doug Walker's adverse doping test.

"We are obviously very disappointed and we shall be doing everything we can to get back into Division One," said the UK Athletics chief executive, Dave Moorcroft, who has guided the domestic sport back from its financial collapse of October 1997. "We spoke to the IAAF and gave them assurances that what happened last year was an exception. We promised that the financial problems would not be repeated. That was obviously not enough."

It is also the second impact in the space of four days on Sheffield's sporting pride. On Monday, Sheffield's supposed pride of place within the National Academy of Sport network was revealed to be no more than a turn of phrase. Having been chosen as the site of the UK Sports Institute in December 1997, the city will not now be the national centre for any of the major Olympic sports.

The fact that the meeting at Qatar has been granted grand prix one status is not likely to ease the blow in British eyes.

The IAAF also postponed any decision on the venue of the 2003 World Championships, for which London is the only bidder so far, from May to November.

n The ailing International Amateur Athletic Federation president, Primo Nebiolo, has announced that he will stand again for the leadership of the sport's world body this year. The 76-year-old Italian, who has often been criticised for his autocratic style, has suffered from cancer for the past decade but has insisted it has not affected his ability to hold down the No 3 ranking job in world sport.