Athletics: Cars for gold from Nebiolo

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WINNERS at this year's World Championships will have something more than a gold medal by which to remember their victory. Under a deal announced yesterday, they will also receive an pounds 18,000 Mercedes car.

But this initiative from the International Amateur Athletic Federation - which also applies to the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg - is little more than a crude attempt to buy off those leading athletes and agents who have been threatening to boycott the championships unless prize-money is introduced.

It may nevertheless have the reverse effect from that intended, as it has created a precedent of immediate material reward for victory in a major championship. If it's a Merc for the worlds, why not a Roller for the Olympics?

Tempting as that line of speculation may be, it is the institution of structured and widely distributed prize-money that is being sought by athletes and agents who have been angered by the huge amounts of money which the IAAF has accrued in recent years. Last year's four-year contract with the European Broadcasting Union, which was worth dollars 91m ( pounds 61m) to the IAAF, did much to increase support for the agents' cause.

Primo Nebiolo, the IAAF president who has stood fast against the idea of prize-money at major championships, commented: 'We wanted to do something for the athletes. I am not really thinking about whether they are satisfied or not, but we are happy that we can offer them something.'

John Bicourt, a British member of the international agents' association, responded: 'Something is better than nothing, but it is still an inequitable situation. Where's the motivation for athletes in a winner-takes-all situation like this?

'The money has come from Mercedes, not from the IAAF - but at least it is a tremendous precedent for the money to start creeping into other areas.'