Athletics: Money makes the world go round: Stuttgart is where the stars are gathering - and they all have their price. Richard Williams reports

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The Independent Online
THE NEWS that Liza Minnelli had been replaced by Chuck Berry in Friday's opening ceremony of the World Athletics Championships did not, perhaps, excite quite the same degree of comment as the probable non-appearance later this week of the favourite for the 1,500 metres, Nourredine Morceli, whose agent thinks his athlete should be paid for his efforts. It was, however, a useful reminder of how close together the two worlds have grown.

According to the irate officials of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, Minnelli's no-show was caused by her decision to fire one agent and hire another, who promptly cancelled all her existing contracts. Her replacement in the show, on the other hand, comes from an older and less self- aggrandizing school of show business. The boys in the IAAF blazers may have worn thin smiles as the unbridled strains of 'Rock and Roll Music' and 'Memphis, Tennessee' rocked the foundations of the Gottlieb Daimler Stadium, but Chuck Berry's legendary insistence on being paid in dollar bills, in advance, must have made them feel right at home.

Students of the gradual metamorphosis of amateur athletics into a full-blown professional business will smile nostalgically at the thought of remuneration via suitcases stuffed with cash. Nowadays these things are handled differently, although not always with much more clarity. Morceli's argument is that if Carl Lewis is being paid, so should he. Lewis, of course, is not being paid. Not officially, anyway. Primo Nebiolo, the IAAF's ambitious president, says that no athletes are being paid at these championships. The winners in each event will take home a new dollars 30,000 saloon car supplied by Stuttgart's most famous company, Mercedes-Benz, and that's it.

But there are more ways of rewarding an athlete than handing over a bag of cash or transferring a sum by computer into his bank account. One form of inducement is indicated by the presence of Lewis and his fellow members of the Santa Monica Track Club in the air-conditioned luxury of the Hotel Graf Zeppelin, which is otherwise occupied by delegates of the IAAF, rather than in the more spartan surroundings of the athletes' village, set up in a former US military barracks some miles away. And if the IAAF had thought it right to use some of the dollars 60m proceeds from the sale of the TV rights to the championships to reward the Santa Monica club for special promotional efforts by its athletes, then why should it not?

Athletics is in the throes of a power struggle which will lead to even more change before the end of the present decade. Some things are harder to change than others, though, and these championships, like all others, began with great gusts of mingled hypocrisy and sentiment which will be dispelled only when the proper business has hit its rhythm. Nebiolo is proud of the fact that 189 national federations are represented here, compared with 172 at last year's Olympic Games and 164 at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. That kind of aggrandisement means power, particularly in a world where each nation has a vote, so Nebiolo could watch the parade of 189 flags at the opening ceremony in the satisfied knowledge that each extra flag from each emerging nation meant an extra vote of a weight equal to those of the established giants. Since he bestows the largesse upon the newcomers, it follows that he can get his way in matters great and small, from choosing to hold the championships every two years rather than every four to last week's sudden and highly controversial decision to switch the IAAF's headquarters from London to Monaco, where it will occupy premises provided by the government. Perhaps we shouldn't get too worked up about that, though; there must have been a few Swedes who resented Lord Burghley's decision to transfer the HQ from Stockholm to the English capital in the 1930s.

But only purists and traditionalists bother about that kind of stuff. Nebiolo's real monument will not be an office block in Monaco but these World Championships, which began 10 years ago in Helsinki and reach the second stage in their growth with this year's fourth edition. After beginning in straightforward alternation with the Olympics, their frequency has now been increased to plug all the gaps, meaning that an athlete who competes in the Olympics and the World and European championships will never have a year off. Some people think this is asking too much of the athletes' bodies, but if television is willing to pay the IAAF dollars 60m every two years, then that will certainly turn out to be those bodies' price.

Prim and prosperous Stuttgart, where the Mercedes museum rivals James Stirling's Staatsgalerie and the vineyards come down almost into the city centre, seems the perfect location for Nebiolo's vision. Stuttgart also means Porsche sports cars and Hugo Boss suits: commodities that can be marketed and sold via an association with sport, and that could do with a push in a recession. In the vast cobbled courtyard of the Schlossplatz, the elegant old facade of the administrative offices of Baden-Wurttemburg is obliterated this week by a vast art-piece consisting of several dozen orange Portakabins stacked up to form a complex of bars and restaurants available to athletes and the IAAF's guests, surrounded by 90 black and white Porsche Carreras parked in precise lines.

Art, indeed, for the brave new world of Primo Nebiolo and his friends from Mars, Visa, Reebok, Coca-Cola, TDK, Fuji, Carlsberg, Olivetti and Mita, the championships' other official sponsors. The opening ceremony achieved a similar level of aesthetic elevation. It was not just the big-screen greetings from former champions or the appearance of the Israeli athletes among the European contigent in the athletes' march-past that made the affair resemble a nightmarish post-Birtian cross between This is Your Life and the Eurovision Song Contest.

A five-continents theme found expression in the arrival of five parachutists, in the five-way division of the athletes' march-past, in the peace-and-fellowship-through- sport messages read by five children, and in the technically astounding live satellite link-up between five sets of musicians in Stuttgart, Bali, Brazil, Egypt and Australia, playing together. Whether it was worth the effort on musical grounds is one thing, but the chance to hear didgeridoo, gamelan, berim

bau and Fender Stratocaster coming together from all the corners of the world certainly achieved some sort of apotheosis of world music. Beside that, the individual performances of Chuck Berry, Youssou N'Dour, Chris DeBurgh, the Stuttgart Ballet and the cello section of the Berlin Philharmonic seemed almost mundane. (Well, in Chris DeBurgh's case, utterly mundane.)

Chuck Berry, of course, was having hits with 'Maybellene' and 'Roll Over, Beethoven' when Gordon Pirie and Chris Brasher were winning medals. There is said to be no truth in the rumour that his appearance prefaced the introduction of the Duckwalk as a demonstration sport at the fifth world championships, in Gothenburg in two years' time. On the other hand, if Primo Nebiolo's boys in blazers can find a sponsor . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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