Fault lines in full view

Mike Rowbottom witnesses a slanging match that threatens unity in athletics
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The Independent Online
Club representatives vented their feelings of frustration with the British Athletic Federation at yesterday's annual meeting when they attempted to loosen the governing body's control over sponsorship, television and fixture arrangements.

Members voted by 545 to 16 to support a wide-ranging proposal put forward by Haringey Athletics Club that called for, among other things, a regeneration of international matches and, crucially, permission for regional and national associations to promote and stage their own televised events. But the results of the vote will have to be considered on 7 June by the BAF Council, which has the right to endorse or reject individual elements of the proposal.

Before the meeting, BAF circulated letters to clubs urging them not to support the Haringey proposal, which they felt would cause harmful fragmentation within the sport. The Sports Council, currently considering an application from BAF for an annual Lottery grant of pounds 5.5 million, has also indicated it would not look kindly upon any proposal that led to a "break-up" within British athletics.

However, yesterday's meeting served only to highlight the deep fault lines which run through British athletics. The meeting in Birmingham degenerated at times into a slanging match between BAF officers and representatives of the AAA of England and the Southern England AA. The latter association is aggrieved that the British Grand Prix meeting, traditionally held at Crystal Palace, has been switched to Sheffield this season, thus depriving it of around pounds 70,000 worth of funding for its own coaching and grass- roots activities.

Its secretary, Eric Nash, said: "We don't want BAF handouts. We don't want any Tom, Dick or Harry to be able to put on a meeting - that would lead to anarchy. But I can't see how letting a national or regional association put on a meeting perhaps once a year could lead to a breakdown of any arrangements BAF have made."

An SEAA proposal concentrating on a request for greater freedom in arranging televised meetings won the vote by 477 to 303. Underlying much of the dissension yesterday was the long-running dispute between the AAA, which has run its own championships for 117 years, and the BAF, which says it has met with no co-operation in attempting to combine its trials for world indoor and outdoor championships this year with AAA championships.

Steve Gledhill, BAF's outgoing financial director, said: "The criticisms that we hear that the Federation has ignored the sport at grass roots are grossly unjust and borne of ignorance. Since it was established in 1992, the Federation has put pounds 2m into the coaching education system and pounds 5.2m into the regions. In that time, it has made an overall deficit of pounds 174,000 while the AAA has received over half a million."

Sean Pickering, the international shot-putter who has worked as a sponsorship manager for multi-national companies, warned that the course of action favoured by the Haringey and SEAA proposals ran the risk of undermining the four-year contract recently established with Channel 4.