Athletics: Demand for BAF changes expected

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The Independent Online
THE dream ticket which established itself at the head of British athletics last year faces a potentially rude awakening in Birmingham today. The annual general meeting of the British Athletic Federation presents a range of awkward challenges to the executive chairman, Professor Peter Radford, and the honorary secretary, Dave Bedford, which they could hardly have envisaged when they were voted into power.

The question which lies at the heart of things is the Federation's relationship with the rank and file of clubs. One of the main stated aims of the candidates who campaigned together last time - Radford, Bedford, treasurer John Lister and the current vice-chairman, Bob Greenoak - was 'the improvement of communication and accountability.'

Thus far, they have failed to deliver in that respect. And the most pressing criticism they face today is likely to come from club members baffled by the silence which has descended since the BAF began their inquiry into the conduct of their promotions officer, Andy Norman.

Cliff Temple, the writer and coach whom Norman is accused of having threatened, was found dead on a railway line on 8 January. Dave Smyth, secretary of the Folkestone club to which Temple belonged, intends to demand why no action has yet been taken and how long Norman's current sick leave is likely to continue.

The Federation, keenly aware of the need to conduct themselves without legal reproach, will have their solicitor, Charles Woodhouse, standing by to respond correctly.

Since last year's pledge by the quartet to increase investment in club development to pounds 1m per annum by 1998, the sport has been obliged to reassess its financial basis.

With sponsors dropping out, and ITV only committing themselves to a one-year contract rather than the four-year one which recently expired, the sport faces a fall in income of pounds 500,000 next year, rising possibly to pounds 1m next year.

'The golden years of money from TV can be expected to decline,' Lister said. 'And if the sport wants to continue to flourish, it has to produce new sources of income.'

To that effect, the BAF wants to propose a registration scheme whereby the 250,000 or so registered athletes in this country would pay around pounds 10 each per annum in exchange for a package of benefits including insurance cover and travel discounts.

This is not a popular move among the rank and file, who need a lot of reassurance that such monies would benefit the sport as a whole.

The current mood of disaffection may be given expression in this year's voting. Bedford is being opposed for the secretary's post by Matt Frazer, who is the ultimate grass roots candidate given that he is secretary of the cross-country commission. Greenoak faces challenges from Ken Rickhuss and Eric Shirley for the post of chairman vacated by Radford when he took up his current paid position at the beginning of February.