Athletics: Radford's departure may herald rethink

Mike Rowbottom on the resignation of a frustrated BAF executive chairman
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The Independent Online
British athletics will address itself this week to the pressing question of who - if anyone - should succeed its outgoing head, Peter Radford.

Professor Radford's shock announcement on Saturday that he is to return to the academic world after a troubled three-year tenure as executive chairman has polarised opinion within a sport that is now drifting towards the start of a new season.

But when the British Athletic Federation's management board meets to discuss the situation this week, it may well decide that a job which was created to enable Radford to push through a series of radical changes need not be retained. "They may want to restructure the whole thing,'' Radford said yesterday. "It is definitely an option."

The 57-year-old former Olympic sprint medallist, who may stay on at the BAF for several months before taking up his new post as head of sports science at Brunel University, has presided over one of the most turbulent periods in British athletics history. The Andy Norman affair, the Diane Modahl drug case and the row over payments with leading athletes including Linford Christie and Colin Jackson have taxed Radford's powers in recent years.

At times this essentially analytical man has appeared perplexed by the worldly challenges he encountered, like one of the Houyhnhnms - the rational horses of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels - trying to come to terms with the idea of lying as "saying the thing which was not".

There are, as he is all too aware, many in the sport who regard him as lofty and incommunicative, presiding over a sport declining in popularity which has lost pounds 750,000 in the past two years.

Others, like the director of the newly formed British Athletes Association, Geoff Parsons, see Radford as a man of integrity and vision.

Radford acknowledged yesterday that he knew of Brunel's job offer when he told athletics writers last Wednesday of his confidence in the sport's future. "I have laid down a framework people can build on," he said yesterday, pointing to the newly signed deals with Channel 4 and Reebok and the new accord with the BAA. "I don't see this as being an escape from something. I felt I could take up a tempting offer to return to the academic world."

Radford, nevertheless, has found the constant criticism from regional and club level exasperating, something which was confirmed yesterday by the BAF chairman, Ken Rickhuss, to whom Radford first announced his resignation on Friday night.

"Peter had a vision of what he wanted to do, but it must be obvious to everybody the difficulties he has encountered. People can only take so much."

Radford would not be drawn on who if anyone might replace him, but he did stress that a vital factor in future would be the freedom of movement allowed to any professional by the committees whom they served.

His main regret, he said yesterday, was not to have started the process of improving relationships with athletes earlier. The boycotts resulting from his row with Nuff Respect personnel damaged the sport's image and commercial appeal.

Radford, nevertheless, believes athletics' potential remains huge. "If some people would actually let the kite fly, it would fly a mile high. But some people, for one reason or another, don't want it to fly."