Athletics: Radford faces future amid discontent: Mike Rowbottom finds that the sacking of Andy Norman has not ended athletics' problems

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The Independent Online
WHEN Peter Radford made his swift and silent exit from the Holiday Inn, Birmingham, on Friday evening after announcing that Andy Norman had been sacked as the British Athletic Federation's promotions officer, the reaction among the media was of understandable frustration.

More than one journalist voiced an opinion famously expressed by a tearful Steve Ovett five years ago, when he complained that Norman had offered him money to run in the supposedly non-paying AAA Championships: 'They got me here under false pretences.'

Radford's refusal to elaborate on Norman's dismissal, other than to say that his conduct in certain matters 'was not appropriate' and that for him to remain in his employment 'would be inconsistent with the interests of BAF' was in line with the way he has handled this damaging controversy since it was brought to a head on 8 January. The discovery next to a railway line of the body of Cliff Temple, the writer and coach who was subjected to unfounded allegations of sexual harassment by Norman after writing an article critical of him, made it inevitable that BAF's promotions officer would face a day of reckoning.

But Radford, who possesses a precision that befits a man who until last year earned his living as an academic, has proceeded with extreme caution throughout. His reticence was clearly part of a deal with Norman, who is likely to have received a generous pay-off - some observers have estimated it at around pounds 100,000 - in return for an agreement that he will not make too many waves. Norman, who knows where many skeletons are buried, is due to make a statement in a few days; Radford is reserving his right to respond, but one imagines that the parties have agreed the broad outline of what will be aired.

Norman is still a powerful, able and influential figure. He will not disappear in a puff of smoke, and he still handles the racing programmes of several of Britain's highest profile athletes, including Linford Christie and Colin Jackson. Radford's statement emphasised that Norman wished to be 'supportive of BAF'. He needs to be if the domestic sport is not to be split.

Within the past month, the two leading figures within British athletics have departed - Frank Dick, the director of coaching, resigned after voicing fears about funding. Now Norman is gone. The slate has been cleaned for the newly installed executive chairman, who will now begin to plan a coherent organisation to replace the ad hoc arrangements which revolved around Norman and Dick as the sport professionalised itself in the past 15 years.

A new commercial director has been chosen, from outside the sport, and his name will be announced within the fortnight. With future revenue from television - and consequent support from sponsors - uncertain, the new man will have a brief to exploit untapped areas which BAF estimates could be worth pounds 1m a year.

The promotions operation has been overseen in Norman's absence by his assistants, Ian Stewart and Wilbert Greaves, as well as Peter Hier, who joined the staff last month. Radford is reserving his options on appointing a new man.

He is trying to hold many things together. But he has angered more than the media with his approach. His statement received a mixed reception from Temple's club, Folkestone AC. 'Obviously we are very relieved that Norman has gone,' Dave Smyth, the club secretary, said. 'But we look on it as a missed opportunity to clear Cliff's name.

'To say that Norman had implied no sexual impropriety when he used the term 'sexual harassment' to Cliff in the phone call is as if Norman is being quoted as an authority on what the term means. And to say that he is mentioning it not just in fairness to the reputation of Cliff and the athlete concerned in the allegation, but also in fairness to Andy Norman, strikes me as trying to please everybody, and trying not to upset Norman.

'It would have been better to have said there was no credibility in the allegations made against Cliff. This was the opportunity for Radford to bury the whole Cliff Temple affair. He could have accepted that BAF had made serious mistakes in not acting sooner. He could have said BAF was sorry. But he did not.

'Questions have now got to be asked. We will be holding a club meeting on Sunday (today) when we will decide what our official response is.'

There are indeed many questions to be asked, and to be answered. For British athletics, the landscape is changed

utterly.

Radford would argue that now is the time to have faith.

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