`Friendly Games' under threat

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The Commonwealth Games face disaster after world athletics' governing body, the International Amateur Athletic Federation, announced plans to assert its control over the sport's rapidly expanding professional circuit.

Primo Nebiolo, president of the IAAF, revealed at the World Half-marathon Championships here that he will brook no opposition to future IAAF fixtures by denying rival events permission to be staged. Nebiolo also hopes to ensure the quality of his meetings by paying athletes cash prizes at all IAAF events from next year.

"We can do what we want because we are the governing body," Nebiolo said. "We have the strength to control the sport and disqualify any athlete taking part in other events."

The IAAF's moves could hit the next Commonwealth Games, often referred to as the "Friendly Games", in Kuala Lumpur. In announcing the dates for the 1998 World Cup in Johannesburg, the IAAF has lined up a clash. The three-day World Cup team event finishes on 13 September, 24 hours before athletics events at the Commonwealth Games start in Malaysia.

"We have a problem with the Commonwealth Games. They must fit in with us," Nebiolo said.

Besides the sheer physical demands of such a busy programme facing athletes who might have considered competing in both events, senior IAAF sources are confident the leading Commonwealth athletes will prefer to chase cash in the World Cup rather than compete for devalued Commonwealth titles.

Next year, the IAAF has already guaranteed prizes at the World Championships in Athens, with $100,000 (pounds 65,000) bonuses for world records.

The Commonwealth Games have been in decline as an athletics spectacle for some time. The organisers in 1998 and 2002, when they are due to be staged in Manchester, must fear that if the crowd-pullers are absent from the high profile track events, sponsors and television will desert the Games, too. "We are aware of the problems," a spokesman for the Commonwealth Games Federation said yesterday, and we are in discussions with the IAAF."

Roger Black, Jonathan Edwards and Steve Backley have been awarded the British Athletics Federation's athlete of the year award for the best performance in major international competition.