Athletics / World Athletics Championships: Morceli claims a point: Ken Jones in Stuttgart on the problem an Algerian has caused for athletics authorities

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The Independent Online
AN abiding mystery of these championships concerns Noureddine Morceli, the 1992 Olympic 1,500 metres champion from Algeria, who made it abundantly clear a short while ago that his presence would depend entirely on the colour of money.

As it is not the policy of the International Amateur Athletic Federation to pay for appearance and there are no cash prizes at stake, some serious discussions must have taken place before Morceli agreed to take part last night, winning his heat comfortably. Rumour suggests that the IAAF threatened to invoke a new rule that put Morceli in peril of a two-month ban and expulsion from the next Olympics, but as this is not yet in the statute book the IAAF may not legally have been able to enforce it.

Certainly, the IAAF president, Primo Nebilo, had a long telephone conversation last weekend with Morceli's agent, Amer Brahmia. As a result the Algerian chose to avoid an action that could have proved mortally discouraging. Speaking after Morceli qualified for the 1,500m semi-finals, Brahmia said: 'We did it as a protest to show that there is hypocrisy in the sport. It was not for the money but the principle. Morceli has got more than enough money.'

Considering the rewards now available in athletics and the heroic status Morceli is accorded at home, it is unlikely he has to worry where the next Mercedes is coming from, but that is not the issue. What the IAAF has to worry about is that in proving himself adaptable the Algerian has brought the sport closer to open professionalism. Brahmia is right. A great deal of hypocrisy still exists.

For Steve Cram, the 1983 world champion and 1984 Olympic silver medallist, it was more a case of attempting to prove that if time waits for no athlete it sometimes slows respectfully to a crawl.

At 32, Cram has suffered more debilitating injuries than any athlete can reasonably expect to avoid, and failure to get among the five qualifiers in last night's heat would probably have seen the last of him at the distance. In fact, this time fortune favoured the man from Gateshead who, uniquely for a British athlete, is taking part in his fourth World Championships.

On the last bend, striving to stay in touch with the leaders, he was almost brought down by Germany's Jens-Peter Herold, the 1990 European champion who stumbled and fell in front him. Cram was blameless, a conclusion arrived at by the judges when they turned down a protest. 'As Herold stumbled his back foot caught my hand,' Cram said. 'I knew he was going over so I swerved out of the way.' A neat move, it enabled him to survive in the event.

Morceli is at the championships under protest. Cram is simply glad to be still taking part.