Christie considering an improved offer from Radford

Mike Rowbottom in Lausanne on an eleventh-hour bid that may yet see the best of British run at Crystal Palace on Friday
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The Independent Online
Linford Christie was offered an improved financial package yesterday to compete in the four remaining British meetings, starting with Friday's grand prix at Crystal Palace.

Peter Radford, executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation, faxed Christie's management group, Nuff Respect, with a revised deal, and is awaiting a response. "We are continuing our negotiations and I'm still hopeful that Linford will be running on Friday," he said.

That may prove to be a race too far for Christie, purely in terms of physical strain. Having had a hard 100 metres in Paris on Monday, he faces two more hugely challenging races over 100 and 200m here today.

But yesterday's initiative - after a personal examination of financial resources by Radford - was welcome, if belated. The glaring absence of Christie and his Nuff Respect colleagues, Colin Jackson and John Regis, from Sunday's televised meeting at Gateshead appears to have concentrated minds wonderfully.

Christie and Co have been seen in some quarters as holding the federation to ransom at a time when financial resources and sponsorship have dipped. He feels he has been singled out for a pay cut relative to what he received last season. In the absence of any reliable figures, that can only be a matter of speculation, but the federation must bear a large measure of responsibility for mishandling the situation. Part of the problem has stemmed from the strained relationship between Christie and the federation's events director, Ian Stewart.

Stewart has been in a difficult situation, taking over from Andy Norman, who had a well established relationship with Christie, Jackson et al, and being put under pressure to save money. But his approach, abrasive at times, has alienated the Nuff Respect group and created an atmosphere of mistrust. Radford did the right thing in taking over the negotiations, but he has not been seen to be going about things with sufficient urgency. Taking a four-day break in the week before Gateshead was hardly politic.

Speaking to Christie after he had raced in Paris, it was clear that the federation had a lot of PR to do. "We watched the Gateshead meeting on television," Christie said. "I just felt that the federation cheated a lot of people out there. I'm hoping that Crystal Palace doesn't turn out to be the same thing and that they can give the British public what they want."

The idea which has been floated from within the federation recently that Christie might take part in an exhibition race against Jonah Lomu - something Christie was not consulted about beforehand - also did nothing to further goodwill. "If people think that is what is going to happen, they are not taking the sport seriously enough. These are the people I am having to deal with," he said.

Christie's pride has been hurt. Clearly he wants to secure a good deal for himself as he comes towards the end of his career, but principle really is involved as far as he is concerned. He has run twice at Crystal Palace for no money this season. Jackson will run at the Welsh Games next weekend for no money.

Whether Radford's new deal will be enough remains to be seen. If Nuff Respect stick too rigidly to the kind of group bargaining which eventually led promoters to call the bluff of Carl Lewis's Santa Monica group, there may be even bigger problems ahead. But British athletics needs promotion now as never before, and despite all the criticisms that have come from the Nuff Respect camp, a willingness to talk is still there. This dispute must be resolved now before it is allowed to fester any longer.