British athletics, already gathering itself for next year's Olympic challenge, was jolted out of its stride yesterday when Colin Jackson announced that he would not compete in any meetings organised by the British Athletic Federation.
The world's 110 metres hurdles record holder is still angry following last season's dispute with BAF's chief executive, Peter Radford, and has vowed to boycott all but the Welsh games and the Olympic trials in this country while Radford still retains his position.
It is a very personal rebuke for Radford, coming only a day after he had assured a press conference that the disputes over payment and selection which had marred last season were unlikely to be repeated.
Asked whether he had patched things up with Jackson and Linford Christie, who missed the first two domestic meetings along with others from their management company Nuff Respect because of a pay row, Radford said he had spoken to both. "I think we will have a much better relationship this coming year," he said. "I don't think it's going to be a major problem for us."
That statement now looks like a hostage to fortune. Whatever discussions Radford had with the two former world champions do not appear to have been substantive. As Jackson's outburst has confirmed, peace has yet to break out in British athletics.
A spokeswoman for Nuff Respect said yesterday that Jackson's stance was "not necessarily" shared by others in the company. Christie, currently on holiday in the United States, is unlikely to put together his schedule for next year until November, although he has indicated that he will pick and choose his competitions and still insists he will not defend his Olympic title.
Jackson was strongly criticised by Radford when he withdrew halfway through the AAA championships and trials because of a groin strain and then won a race in Padua the following day. Radford also criticised his selectors for giving Jackson a provisional world championship place dependent on him proving his fitness two weeks before the event.
Jackson, who did not defend his world title, claimed he had needed to race in Padua to test the extent of his injury. He objected to having a fitness deadline imposed upon him and was also upset that his trustworthiness had been called into question.
"If Colin feels as strongly as that, then so be it," Tony Ward, the BAF spokesman, said. "We certainly won't be taking this dispute into the season with us."
Malcolm Arnold, who finds himself unfortunately placed given his joint role as Jackson's coach and the BAF director of coaching, spoke to Jackson about his plans a week ago. "He said the only things he would pencil in would be the Welsh games and the Olympic trials," Arnold said. "I took that to mean that he was to come up and see me in Birmingham and we'd plan the other meetings in then."
Arnold hopes to speak again to Jackson. "Obviously I'd like to see Britain's best athletes competing in Britain's best meetings," he said.
Like Arnold, Radford is also in a difficult situation. Earlier this week he stressed the efforts BAF had made to stimulate the grassroots of the sport - coaching courses were up by one-third, and 80,000 children had been involved in the Startrack development scheme. He also argued for significant financial support for athletes as Britain prepared bids for the 2001 world championships and 2008 Olympics.
But it is the present which is threatening to tangle itself around Radford's feet. Attendances were down at domestic meetings last season; sponsors were harder to secure. Jackson's announcement will have done nothing to help that situation. Nor will the continuing misunderstanding between the federation and Nuff Respect, who both claim that their willingness to talk has been ignored. British athletics can ill afford another season of civil war.
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