Federation plays politics with Christie

An unfortunate precedent was set on Saturday, says Mike Rowbottom
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Linford Christie is due to fly out to Germany today to receive treatment for the hamstring problem which is putting his appearance at next month's World Championships in doubt.

Peter Radford, executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation, yesterday stood by the decision to allow Christie to compete in the 100 metres final in Birmingham as a guest after he had failed to qualify from the first heat. He added that he viewed Christie's circumstances as "quite a different story" to those of Colin Jackson.

That Christie chose to seek medical assistance rather than sticking to his original plan of competing in Padua along with Jackson is a big mark in his favour as far as the BAF is concerned, but the uncertain mixture of applause and boos which greeted Christie's unprecedented victory here on Saturday told its own story.

There was widespread uneasiness that Christie had been given a privilege accorded to no other competitor in the 115-year history of the Amateur Athletic Association championships. Radford admitted that an exception had been made "because of the status of the competitor".

It was also a welcome decision for the BBC and the event sponsors, KP, whose grand prix last week at Crystal Palace saw only a token trackside presence from Christie and his Nuff Respect colleagues Jackson and John Regis. Having resolved the pay row with these three athletes, this weekend was a crucial opportunity for British athletics to re-establish its profile, and for Christie to go out early was the last thing required.

There is more than one ethos operating at the AAA Championships these days; the new demands of sponsors and television are at odds with the old purities of the event. What happened with Christie, however, offended a sense of natural justice as far as many spectators were concerned. It created an unfortunate precedent which the BAF may yet have cause to regret.

Christie's request was made for a number of understandable reasons. Having made a mess of the opening round because of the problem which he has been experiencing in training all this week, he wanted to test himself fully. "If my hamstring was going to go, I would rather it went now," he said. "I needed to know. I got into the final at nobody's cost, and I don't think any of the other athletes were bothered."

Afterwards he talked about "panicking" because, with the World Championships only three weeks away, the problem did not seem to be clearing up. He was also aware that his non-appearance in the final would disappoint a lot of spectators.

Darren Braithwaite, who lost the race but won the title, could not have been more sporting afterwards. "It did not bother me," he said, adding that he had appreciated Christie's gesture in beckoning him round on a lap of honour ahead of him. But Braithwaite knew he had not appreciated it, and nothing could disguise that fact. "I couldn't do anything about it," he said. "It was politics."