Athletics: Nebiolo tackles American athletes

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The Independent Online
PRIMO NEBIOLO, the president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, yesterday maintained a defiant line on the two issues likely to preoccupy his organisation in the coming year: the pounds 18m damages being claimed from them by Butch Reynolds, and the threat of a boycott by athletes over the question of prize-money at the world championships.

Speaking in Jakarta before the three-day IAAF council meeting which begins tomorrow, Nebiolo warned that legal action of the kind taken by Reynolds, who was awarded damages in an Ohio court following a two-year drug ban which he has always contested, might cause 'great trouble' for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. And he dismissed threats of a boycott as 'comic'.

Reynolds has accused the IAAF of being in contempt of court for failing to pay the damages, warning that officials would be served with a writ if they set foot in the United States. 'I am a little afraid for the success of Atlanta,' Nebiolo said. 'We are the Olympics' No 1 sport.' Asked if he feared prosecution if he entered the US, he replied: 'Do you believe they will stop me? There will be a scandal.'

But Nebiolo plans to visit the States at least twice this year - for the World Student Games in Buffalo between 13-18 July, and for the meeting of the Association of Summer Olympic Federations on 19 March, where he seeks re- election as president. That takes place in Atlanta. It is an awkward situation for him, and he may yet seek a compromise. The issue will be discussed at the meeting; an IAAF official said the organisation was unlikely to pursue its earlier threat to counter-sue Reynolds for libel.

Nebiolo also dismissed the idea of a boycott as ridiculous. 'It is comic. We believe a boycott is not possible. If some athletes do not take part, we have millions and millions of athletes.'

Olympic gold medallists Mike Conley, Michael Johnson and Gwen Torrence are among US athletes threatening to boycott the World Indoor Championships in Toronto in March and the Outdoor Championships in Stuttgart in August, their agent, Brad Hunt, said on Tuesday. 'Who are the best? We have such a big family,' he said.

Even the absence of Carl Lewis from the 100 metres at the Barcelona Olympics last year had not dampened interest in the event, he added. 'We had a fantastic final. We did not die.'

Nebiolo said sponsors would ask athletes to take part and the IAAF would suffer no financial losses. He dismissed reports that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) or sponsors might renegotiate contracts if top athletes stayed away.

Hunt said athletes were particularly upset the IAAF was refusing to award prize-money even though it had signed a dollars 91m ( pounds 60m) four- year television contract.

Ken Jones, page 34