Athletics: Moorcroft's plan to create a fairer future

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AS ANNUAL British athletics gatherings went, what took place at the University of Manchester this weekend was without historical precedent.

In place of the ritual bloodbath that was the sport's AGM, the first annual congress of UK Athletics since its rise from the ashes of the bankrupt British Athletic Federation was a model of positive action. By its close, the clamour among the 350 or so delegates was not to accuse others of lies or betrayal, but to acknowledge the success of a venture which has created a new spirit of openness.

Symbolically perhaps, the four principal figures in the UK Athletics administration - David Hemery (president), Dave Moorcroft (chief executive), Max Jones (head coach and performance director) and Adam Walker) development director) - stood in front of the dais in the University lecture theatre, rather than sitting behind it, to answer the delegates questions.

There may be trouble ahead - the writ served last week by sprinter Doug Walker in the wake of his doping case threatens to engulf UK Athletics in the kind of costly litigation which helped bring down the BAF - but the sport's leaders showed here that they were more than willing to face the music and dance.

In setting out the vision of a restructured organisation for the next century, however, Moorcroft did not attempt to down play the seriousness of the doping issues currently besetting the sport. Until an independent agency can be set up to deal with disciplinary measures in doping, British athletics is increasingly vulnerable to legal challenge from dissatisfied competitors. "We are living with a time bomb," Moorcroft said. Everyone else agrees we shouldn't be holding it, but nobody else wants to take it from us."

He disputed the perception that British athletics was soft on drugs following its decisions to clear three athletes over adverse findings of nandrolone metabolites earlier this year. "It's simply not true," he said. "We are one of only nine countries to conduct out of competition testing and our disciplinary process has been rigorous."

Moorcroft detailed measures being considered to improve doping problems. There are plans to standardise protein supplements in order to prevent athletes falling foul of substandard products. Athletes are also being asked to provide a list of all the substances being regularly taken in order to clarify their position in the event of adverse findings. Moorcroft added that a number of endurance athletes were taking part in a research project which involved regular monitoring of the haematocrit levels, a precursor to more widespread monitoring of potential transgression involving blood doping.

Moorcroft, who unwittingly inherited a BAF on the brink of collapse in 1997, is used to adversity in his struggle to re-establish the sport. But the latest legal challenge, he believes, could present the greatest task of all to overcome. "The doping issues we face now are harder to deal with than that problem [financial collapse]. There was light at the end of the tunnel then because we were able to change things."

Moorcroft now faces a fight on two fronts. He must galvanise the Government into paying not just for medals but fair play. And there are also, as he wryly puts it, "bridges to be built" with the IAAF as it threatens to overturn UK Athletics' doping decisions. "It's a hard task," Moorcroft said. "But I'm going to make sure we can come out of all this stronger."

The weekend's events represented one large step towards a brighter and fairer future.