Athletics: Grand prix final thrown into doubt

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The Independent Online
THE STRUCTURE of the remainder of the international athletics season was called into question last night when many of the world's leading competitors expressed fears for their safety over next Saturday's IAAF Grand Prix final in Moscow, and the following weekend's World Cup in Johannesburg.

Fifty athletes, including the world 100 metres champion, Maurice Greene, the world 1500 metres record holder Hicham El Guerrouj and Britain's European 400m champion, Iwan Thomas, have handed in a petition to the international ruling body requesting that the grand prix final be switched from a venue where financial collapse has created anxiety about crime and civil unrest.

The sprinter Jon Drummond, of the United States, who chaired an informal meeting of athletes the evening before last night's Ivo Van Damme Memorial meeting here, said the petition had been prompted partly by athletes' fears for their own welfare, and partly by feelings that it was inappropriate in such an environment for competitors to be earning large prizes - a jackpot of $1m (pounds 615,000) is on offer to those who can manage to remain unbeaten in their events.

"We are trying not to be aggressive," Drummond said. "We are requesting a change of venue, we hope the IAAF will understand we are genuinely afraid.

"Some of the athletes feel unsafe about competing in Moscow. Some feel it would be an insult to take that kind of money into the country. And some feel both. At this moment, I feel my safety is in question.

"The card is now in the hands of the IAAF. If they do not act, then Jon Drummond, Maurice Greene and Ato Boldon are going home."

Sandro Giovanelli, of the IAAF, said earlier that the organisers did not consider Moscow would be dangerous. "We can't see any reason right now to change," he said, adding that any decision about switching venue would have to be made no later than the day after Tuesday's Golden League meeting in Berlin.

American athletes in particular are also expressing anxiety about the World Cup and the possibility that there may be more terrorist action directed against their country in Johannesburg following the recent bomb in Cape Town. "A lot of people feel the same way about Johannesburg as they do about Moscow," Drummond said.

"I agree completely with Maurice and the other athletes," said Michael Johnson "The situation right now in Russia could certainly be dangerous. To have athletes in what is not a stable environment is not what this sport is about. I think it's a big risk to take. If I was running this thing I would move it somewhere else."

Bryan Bronson, whose win in last night's 400 metres hurdles maintained his chance of sharing the $1m jackpot, also expressed fears.

"A lot of the athletes are anxious about security in Moscow, " Bronson said.