Black predicts bright future with BAA

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Roger Black predicted yesterday that the new British Athletes' Association can put a smile back on the face of the sport and start filling its stadiums again.

The double Olympic silver medallist believes that the days of high-profile rows like Michael Johnson being banned from running at Crystal Palace and the pay dispute involving Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and John Regis may be over.

Communication barriers with the British Athletic Federation had been dismantled amid a new spirit of co-operation, Black declared at the launch of the association in London. No sanctions exist for athletes who choose not to toe the BAA line, but the group of leading athletes who turned up to yesterday's launch were all hopeful that the new relationship with the governing body would lead to a smoother operation.

There are 19 directors of the limited company, including Black, Christie, Jackson, Regis, Jonathan Edwards and Sally Gunnell. Already, they have formed a new company with the BAF to run televised meetings from next year. And Black and the high jumper Geoff Parsons were at the table for negotiations about a new television contract.

Alan Pascoe, responsible for sales of sponsorship for British Athletics, said: "The fact that the athletes are now a concerted group has made a huge difference to prospective sponsors. The presence of a full-time executive means that they are in a position to deliver athletes."

Black admitted: "There were a lot of unhappy athletes during the 1995 season. Relationships with the federation, sponsors and the press were probably at an all-time low. For the first time the athletes started communicating with one another. Then we recognised we had to be at the heart of the sport.

"The most important thing about us is that we care about athletics. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a new environment for the sport. We want to make it more attractive to watch. None of us likes walking into an empty stadium."