Athletics: Top US pair attack IAAF

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The Independent Online
TWO leading American athletes spoke out directly yesterday against the International Amateur Athletic Federation's recent decision to ignore demands for prize-money at this summer's World Championships and rule that any athlete boycotting the event would be ineligible for the Olympic Games.

Michael Johnson, the world 200 metres champion, and Dennis Mitchell, the Olympic 100m bronze medallist - in Glasgow for tomorrow's Pearl International Games - made it clear that individual athletes are as concerned about the position as the agents who have provided the prime voice of dissent.

'By making the World Championships every two years the IAAF have cut our lifespan in the sport and our earning capacity by at least a third, possibly more,' Mitchell said. 'They have done this without consulting the athletes. We accept we are going to be used, but there are ways of being used and they've stepped over the borderline.'

He added that he wanted to see athletes competing at the World Championships being given between dollars 5,000 ( pounds 3,200) and dollars 10,000, with prize-money starting downwards from dollars 100,000 for the winner. Johnson refused to say whether he would seek to retain his title. 'It depends on what the IAAF and the athletes decide,' he said.

'If I just don't feel like running in another World Championships because of the pressure of the Olympic Games last year and the World Championships the year before - whereas in the past it was always the year after the Olympic Games that there wasn't a high-pressure event - then I don't see why I should be barred from the next Games.'

The athletes, however, face two major difficulties in realising their aspirations. Many have contracts with shoe and clothing firms which stipulate that they must appear at the World Championships. There is also the problem of organising action to achieve the significant numbers to which Johnson refers.

Agents in the International Association of Athletes' Representatives, which the IAAF president, Primo Nebiolo, refuses to recognise, plan to co-ordinate their action at a meeting before the World Indoor Championships in March.

Mitchell's agent, Tony Campbell, pointed out that US athletes need not be compromised by the threat of Olympic ineligibility, as their selection for the World Championships is dependent on trials which are not on the IAAF list of statutory events. If this year's trials at Eugene, Oregon, on 19 June are lacking in big names, the boycott will be on, with minimum harm to the athletes involved.

Campbell criticised the IAAF's decision to award national federations dollars 1,000 for each athlete competing in the World Championships. 'There is dollars 91m in the pot. You can't just come up with a dollars 5m or dollars 10m figure and say: 'Take that and get lost'. And to give an American team dollars 1,000 per athlete and, say, an Indonesian team the same amount just doesn't equate.'