Athletics / World Indoor Athletics Championships: Nebiolo warms to idea of prizes in Stuttgart

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THE prospect of athletes receiving sponsored prizes of up to dollars 50,000 ( pounds 35,000) for winning at this summer's World Championships in Stuttgart drew closer yesterday as the International Amateur Athletic Federation's president, Primo Nebiolo, accepted the idea in principle, writes Mike Rowbottom.

Such an alteration in the rules would help to head off the threats of a boycott at Stuttgart from athletes and agents who have been demanding that direct prize-money be offered there. The latest plan by the IAAF, which has refused the agents' demands, is for world-wide companies to finance specific events, providing winners with either cash or equivalent goods.

Asked about the proposals in Toronto yesterday, Nebiolo said: 'Until now, the answer is no. But all is possible in the future. The economic situation makes us concerned that we will not receive the same revenues that we do now. It is not easy to find a sponsor, but if we do, be sure that we will not say no.'

Nebiolo fended off questions about Butch Reynolds, the 400m record-holder who is seeking dollars 27m in damages from the IAAF after his two-year ban for alleged drug abuse. 'Reynolds competes tomorrow,' he said, 'and I don't want to disturb his tranquillity.'

Reynolds was less concerned about his tranquillity at a news conference two hours later, where he underlined his determination to collect the award which a US court had made. 'I am pursuing my lawsuit every minute of every day,' said Reynolds, who has consistently claimed to be innocent. 'The IAAF has acted as prosecutor, judge and jury in this case. We need an independent agency. I have never met Primo Nebiolo, but I think it is unhealthy for the sport that one man should wield so much power. Dictatorship is something from the past. This is the 1990s.'

Meanwhile, Ben Johnson, who appears to have improved the ticket sales for his home-town event in a way that confirms the old saying that all publicity is good publicity, is considering his future after a life ban with apparent confidence. 'It's over,' he said in an Austrian newspaper this week. 'But my 9.79 seconds in Seoul can never be broken. That's why I'm Big Ben forever. The people know that and that's why they love me. I don't need the track. I don't need the sport. I can do many things.'

One of those things might be American football. The Hamilton Tiger Cats have placed Johnson on their negotiation list, planning to play him as a wide receiver.

(Photograph omitted)