The British Athletic Federation is holding talks with the bookmakers, William Hill, for an arrangement that would allow betting at major meetings such as Crystal Palace, Birmingham, Gateshead and Sheffield. But when the BAF board and council consider the proposal in Birmingham next weekend, the case against will be voiced by, among others, Sir Arthur Gold, one of the sport's most distinguished and longest serving administrators.
"This is against the very spirit of the sport," said Gold, president of the Amateur Athletic Association of England and life president of the European Athletic Association. "I hardly need to spell out the grave abuses which could result from it. I believe we have a duty to athletics a century hence. It should be more than a question of looking for a quick buck. It is so easy to gain cheap applause for bringing in money in the short term."
William Hill, which sponsors the BAF-accredited national 100km championships and the annual Man versus Horse challenge in Wales, has been eager to set up the kind of on-course betting currently available at football, rugby, snooker, tennis and golf events in this country.
The initiative for these latest talks has come from the BAF's commercial director, Barry Snellgrove, appointed two years ago, whose previous work involved promoting greyhound meetings.
"Athletics is probably unique among major sports in this country in that it has absolutely no on-course betting anywhere," said Graham Sharpe, William Hill's spokesman. "If you can bet on athletics in High Street shops, why shouldn't you be able to do so at the event itself?"
BAF's Rule 15 is short and to the point: "All betting is strictly prohibited." What that means, exactly, is a matter of interpretation, and the BAF are busy interpreting it right now as they prepare for their Council meeting.
Betting has long played a part in the sport. The middle-distance challenge meetings of Walter George and William Cummings attracted prodigious betting in the mid-1880's. But Gold and other traditionalists fear that athletics is particularly prone to betting scandals. The bookies disagree. "I don't think athletics is any more or less prone to rigging than any other sport," Sharpe said.
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