Athletics: Radford ready for the start of an uphill struggle: The first executive chairman of the BAF begins work early in the new year. Mike Rowbottom met him

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The Independent Online
PETER RADFORD is an eloquent and persuasive man, which is just as well given the nature of the task now confronting him. When he takes over as executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation on 1 February, he will find himself in charge of a sport that is urgently reappraising itself.

When their four-year, pounds 7m deal with British Athletics ends in March, ITV are committing themselves to screening just four outdoor meetings next season, which will be worth an estimated pounds 800,000. Although the BBC have stepped in to show the AAA trials and one other major meeting for the next three years, a deal they announced yesterday, there is still an overall shortfall of cash and an atmosphere of uncertainty which is perturbing potential sponsors.

'It is a serious situation,' Radford said yesterday. 'But I don't like the sound of the word 'crisis'. We are going to have to come to terms with new realities. No one can have any doubt that the sport is far, far too dependent on television income. We have known that for a long time, but because of the cushion we have not done something about it. In a way, it has done us a favour.'

If that fondly expressed hope is to become a reality, it will take a lot of lobbying and restructuring from a man who is about to exchange his position as Professor of Sports Science at Glasgow University for a new full-time position.

Radford indicates two main areas of potential alternative funding. The first is a national registration scheme for all athletes - an idea that has met with fierce resistance in the past. The second is the appointment of a full-time marketing manager.

The reality to which Radford refers is nevertheless likely to be harsh. 'In the future I can see very few people paying their mortgage in any sensible way through athletics. It is not like tennis, golf or soccer. We have done the sport a disservice by saying that we have moved away from being an amateur sport. Money can be made, but only by a very, very few.'

Radford defends the large sums which have assisted the Christies and Jacksons in recent years - 'other athletes need to see that it is possible to reach the absolute pinnacle' - but funding the grassroots of the sport is one of his fundamental beliefs, and the idea of capping the big earners was not dismissed. 'I think they probably should be means-tested,' he said.

It is a tall order for Radford. In his favour is the fact that he is widely respected as a man of integrity and intelligence. And as a former athlete - he was world record holder at 220 yards and 200 metres and took the 100m bronze medal at the 1960 Olympics - he is in a position to sympathise with the current generation. He can recall being told he could not prepare for the 1960 Olympics by competing in the United States because, as it was expressed, 'his loyalty lay with the Midland Counties meeting'. He can recall the free offer of a suit which he had been modelling being turned down on his behalf, without his knowing.

'I promised myself then that if ever I was in the position of being an administrator I would remember what it was like to be an athlete,' he said. He is trying hard to keep that promise.