Athletics: Dick's departure leaves athletics in a state of flux: A sport already uncertain of its future faces more difficult decisions after the head coach's resignation this week. Mike Rowbottom reports

Click to follow
THE abrupt departure of Frank Dick from the post of director of coaching which he has held for the last 14 years will leave a very large hole. The 52-year-old Scot was a meticulous planner, particularly before major championships, an effective motivator and an articulate presence at the top end of the sport.

Dick says he has no immediate plans for another job, but it is likely that he will extend the kind of personal fitness consultancy which he has carried out in recent years for such as Boris Becker, Katarina Witt and the Scottish rugby side. He is also an accomplished speaker on corporate motivation, a subject on which he has written a book.

His dissatisfaction with a salary of pounds 37,000, little more than half that of the British Athletic Federation's promotions officer, Andy Norman, was a contributory cause of his decision, as was his trepidation over the projected cuts in the coaching budgets should the financial position of the sport take a further downturn.

But the root of the difficulty perhaps lay in uncertainty over his role in the sport. It is by no means certain that his job, as a job, will survive. Following last year's establishment of the so-called dream ticket at the head of the sport, a quartet led by the newly installed executive chairman, Peter Radford, who accepted Dick's resignation on Friday, the nature of the chief coach's role seemed up for discussion.

His extra-curricular work was not viewed with enthusiasm. It was proposed that he would take up more promotional activity this season, working with Norman - something neither he nor Norman ever found easy - in an effort to give the second tier of British athletes greater opportunity to compete abroad. This, of course, would have taken up time that might otherwise have been spent on consultancy work.

Dick implied that his resignation was accepted readily. Now that he has gone, and Norman, the other major figure in British athletics, is facing disciplinary proceedings following charges that he threatened the writer and coach Cliff Temple, who committed suicide earlier this year, there is a possibility that Radford could establish a new operation virtually afresh.

The bold plans with which Radford and his associates arrived a year ago, including the revitalisation of club development and coaching and the appointment of a marketing officer to capitalise on untapped potential which was estimated at 'at least pounds 1m', have not been carried out yet.

It was a wise move to seek means of funding other than through television fees and the sponsorship deals generated by the guarantee of national exposure. But none of the quartet could have foreseen how traumatically circumstances would change in the following 12 months.

As several major sponsorships - from Panasonic, who backed the AAA Championships and trials, from Pearl Assurance, who supported several indoor and outdoor meetings - drew to a natural close, the climate for enticing new backers grew suddenly chilly. ITV announced that it would not be renewing the four-year deal worth pounds 1.8m per year which ended in March 1993.

Frantic efforts by Norman persuaded ITV, itself deeply uncertain of the shape of its financial future, to agree an extension of the deal, which lasts until September of this year.

Although the BBC deal - pounds 900,000 a year for two meetings including the AAA - has two years to run, looking beyond September is like peering over a precipice for Britain's athletics establishment.

Negotiations are continuing with Sky, Channel 4 and ITV - but without the influential presence of Norman, who is on sick leave. And until his situation is resolved, and the sport is seen to have sorted itself out, new sponsors are likely to be unwilling to make themselves known.

To add to the pressures on Radford, who just over a year ago was a professor of sports science at Glasgow University, two of the gang of four - David Bedford, the secretary, and Bob Greenoak, the vice-chairman, were voted out of office at last week's annual meeting, where club members gave vent to their feelings of frustration and alienation.

'The sport is in a sea change,' Tony Ward, the BAF spokesman, said. 'It is being run in almost the same way as it was in 1985. With Peter in charge, a new era is about to begin in British athletics.'

That may be so; but for the moment the sea change looks like a painful and bewildering revolution. Radford has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.