ATHLETICS; Sponsors sign up for pounds 10m

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The Independent Online
BRITISH ATHLETICS has guaranteed its financial fortune well into the next millennium by signing the biggest sponsorship deal in its history.

UK Athletics yesterday announced a four-year commitment by CGU Insurance which will be worth pounds 10m to a sport which, only 18 months ago, was in a state of financial collapse.

Having taken a large step towards fiscal health last Autumn by agreeing a five-year television rights contract with the BBC, thought to be worth around pounds 3m a year, UK Athletics is now striding out confidently into the future.

For their money, CGU - formed last year from the merger of Commercial Union and General Accident - will become title sponsors for all major domestic televised meetings. Tomorrow's Gateshead Classic thus becomes the CGU Gateshead Classic, and all other indoor and outdoor meetings will bear the company's name.

Until now, all such sponsorship of meetings has been piecemeal. But the sport's commercial arm, Fast Track, guided by the former European and Commonwealth 400 metres hurdles champion, Alan Pascoe, has succeeded in attracting what it describes as a "white knight sponsor".

CGU will also be title sponsors of the British Senior, Junior and Under- 23 teams. But it is committed to investing at least 20 per cent of its money in grass roots schemes. There will be support, therefore, for the Startrack scheme which attracts 15,000 youngsters each summer and its winter equivalent, the Sportshall scheme, which pulls in close to 250,000. The company will also set up a new national award scheme which will receive additional funding through the Government's Sportsmatch system.

"The partnership with CGU represents a massive boost to the sport and will provide the financial support and stability necessary to take British athletics forward," said Dave Moorcroft, the UK Athletics chief executive.

He added: "In particular, CGU's athletics commitment will help us to execute our vision of identifying, nurturing and supporting athletes and enable thousands of young people to enter the sport."

Britain's success at last summer's European Championships - where they won a record nine gold medals - and Commonwealth Games provided an important spur towards the successful conclusion of the deal.

The benefits of the new partnership are already being felt, as the budgets for the first two outdoor meetings of the season - the IAAF Grand Prix II event at Gateshead and the Grand Prix I at Crystal Palace on 7 August - have been calculated taking this deal into account. Prize -money for these two meetings is the highest ever in Britain - $750,000 (pounds 465,000) for Palace, close to half a million dollars for Gateshead - and has secured the services of both IAAF Athletes Of The Year, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and Marion Jones of the United States. Jones will run in London; Gebrselassie goes over a mile in the Gateshead Stadium tomorrow against a field which includes Britain's two top competitors, John Mayock and Anthony Whiteman.

In the women's equivalent event, the 1500m, Kelly Holmes makes her season's debut against the runner who - albeit diplomatically - questioned her absence at last weekend's European Cup, the British captain Paula Radcliffe.

Holmes, who made a comeback from injury at the tail end of last season to take the Commonwealth 1500m silver medal in Kuala Lumpur, will know that if she is at less than peak efficiency Radcliffe, who set a British two miles record last month and ran away from the field in last Sunday's European Cup 5,000m, will make her pay.

Britain's new generation of sprinters, including European Champion Darren Campbell, world indoor bronze medallist Jason Gardener and Dwain Chambers, who broke 10 seconds for the 100m earlier this month, meet in a challenge event.

At 400m the domestic competition is likely to be almost as fierce although the absence through injury of the European and Commonwealth champion Iwan Thomas means that his rival Mark Richardson should have an easier task. But Jamie Baulch, World Indoor Champion, will be aiming to make his outdoor mark and Solomon Wariso, who pipped Roger Black to a place at last year's European Championships, is in impressive form.

Gateshead will also witness the gathering of some of Britain's best- loved athletes in a Legends of The Track race involving the double Olympic Decathlon champion Daly Thompson, 1980 Olympic 100m champion Alan Wells and favourites from the one-lap event - Kriss Akabusi, Derek Redmond, Todd Bennett and Brian Whittle.

Maurice Greene, the new world 100m record holder has chosen to race over 200m at the US Championships in Eugene tomorrow night, which means he will face the double Olympic champion, Michael Johnson.