Athletics: Nebiolo sharply criticises 'scared' Americans

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The Independent Online
PRIMO NEBIOLO, the president of the sport's governing body, the International Athletic Federation, has criticised the American athletes who have pulled out of Saturday's IAAF Grand Prix final in Moscow claiming they are too "afraid" to compete.

Michael Johnson, the Olympic 400 metres champion, along with the world 100m title holder, Maurice Greene, have said they will not compete in the Russian capital because of the developing currency crisis and fears for their security.

Nebiolo said in Berlin last night after the last of the IAAF Golden League meetings that if their President, Bill Clinton, could make the trip, so should they.

"We have always been convinced that Americans are strong and they are not afraid of anything," Nebiolo said. "But after we organised a meeting in Sarajevo they were afraid and now we are going to Moscow they are again afraid.

"Moscow has some problems financially but as for security there is no problem. If the President of the United States can go there, I don't understand why some of their athletes can be concerned."

Johnson confirmed again last night that he would not be competing in Moscow, despite earlier assurances from the president of the Russian athletic federation that athletes would be safe to compete amid an atmosphere of civil unrest and economic instability.

A number of other American athletes, including the sprinters Jon Drummond and Greene, said last week they would not run in the final if it was not moved from Moscow, as did Trinidad's world 200m champion, Ato Boldon, their training partner.

Johnson, who won the 400m in the last of the Golden League meetings in Berlin in a time of 44.62sec, said afterwards that he was returning to his home town of Dallas to take part in a Pro-Am golf tournament. The final, scheduled as the climactic event of the Golden League series, carries total prize money of $4.4m (pounds 2.75m). Not enough to tempt the world and Olympic 400m champion.

Russian officials yesterday gave assurances that there will be no safety problems for participants in the final. Their comments came after about 50 leading athletes signed a petition last week calling for the prestigious, end of season, meeting to be moved to "a more serene venue" in view of the economic and political crisis enveloping Russia.

The IAAF has insisted the event will go ahead as planned at Luzhniki Olympic Stadium. However, it is not clear how many of the 180 athletes will choose to miss the competition.

"I can understand those who expressed safety concerns about coming to Moscow," Valentin Balakhnichev, the president of the Russian athletics federation, said. "But I can assure you and everyone else that personal safety will not be a factor here."

Claiming that the Russian capital is safer than many other track venues around the world, he said the athletes had been unduly influenced by alarmist coverage of the Russian crisis.

"I have to remind you that it was in Atlanta, not Moscow, where during the 1996 Olympics a bomb exploded in the Olympic park," Balakhnichev said.

n Diane Modahl is pressing ahead with legal action in attempt to win compensation from the British Athletics Federation. The 32-year-old athlete is suing the BAF for pounds 800,000 over the Sale Harrier's "failed" drugs test in 1994. Modahl and her husband, Vicente, released a statement last night claiming that the BAF has not responded to a deadline for reaching an out-of-court settlement.