When Peter Radford resigned as the British Athletic Federation's executive chairman on Saturday, he cited the constraints imposed upon the sport's professional administrators by its unwieldy committee system and the divergent aims of a Council nearly 60 strong.
Radford became the fourth chief executive to have departed within the past 15 years, causing many in the sport to regard the job as a poisoned chalice. But Lottery Fund officials administering the newly instituted World Class Performance programme - which will provide more than pounds 40m of extra funding for sporting bodies and competitors in its first year - are insistent that applying sports should streamline their management structures. And there have been strong hints in Sports Council circles that British athletics, among other sports, has urgent work to do.
"If we are committing ourselves to giving out significant sums of public money, we have got the absolute right to ask for reassurance that the management structure of a sport is fit for the purpose," said Roy Headey, of the Lottery Unit.
"We have to be sure the decision-making process is fast enough and informed enough. If we discover a large council or committee which is unwieldy, and contains people who are not best placed to make decisions which move a sport in the right direction, we would be within our rights to say we would only invest on an interim basis until weaknesses in the structure were sorted out."
All sports receiving grants will undergo a rigorous examination by independent auditors before lottery money is transferred, and there will be regular checks once the funding is established. If a team seconded from the National Audit Office encounters a problem, then grants will be made provisional for a year. Failure to deal with the problem could see funding cut off completely.
The BAF is holding an emergency meeting this week in the wake of Radford's resignation. The names of several possible successors have been floated, including Sebastian Coe, David Moorcroft, Mike Whittingham and Brendan Foster. The latter characterised British athletics' top job this week as one he would not wish on his worst enemy. Perhaps the financial leverage the Sports Council can bring to bear at this critical point in British sports funding will alter that position.
Malcolm Arnold, the BAF chief coach who is masterminding a bid which has been well received in draft form, remained confident yesterday that Radford's imminent departure would not deter the UK Sports Council from acceptance.
He is seeking pounds 4m this year to transform Britain's coaching programme and approximately pounds 1.5m of subsistence funding on behalf of 310 competitors from across the athletic disciplines.
If Arnold's hopes are fulfilled, the sport will be able to establish a support system to match that in place in many other countries throughout Europe. Arnold foresees a new structure which would boost the number of full time coaches from 10 to 35.
So far, three sports - swimming, netball and rowing - have submitted their detailed bids to the UK Sports Council, which hopes to make the first of its subsistence grants to competitors in March. All grants will be means tested, with money being deducted off basic grants when the competitors' income surpasses pounds 28,000 per annum. However, prize-money up to pounds 28,000 will not be part of that calculation and any money from sponsorship will only be assessed at 50 per cent.
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