Athletes: Athletes face loss of funding if they refuse to toe new line

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The Independent Online

Dave Collins, the former Royal Marine called in to restructure UK Athletics, has emerged from the planning stage with a fistful of flow charts and a hint of menace. The new message - delivered to all interested parties this week in the form of a letter - is essentially this: shape up or ship out.

Dave Collins, the former Royal Marine called in to restructure UK Athletics, has emerged from the planning stage with a fistful of flow charts and a hint of menace. The new message - delivered to all interested parties this week in the form of a letter - is essentially this: shape up or ship out.

The barrel-chested figure, who once played international American football and who also holds black belts in judo and karate, made a playful impact at last weekend's annual UKA conference as he showed delegates the Reebok television advertisement in which the American footballer, Terry Tate, crashes an officeful of staff to the floor before admonishing them for their poor behaviour as the voiceover adds: "Overnight, production levels doubled".

Collins, who arrived at UKA from a post as professor of psychology at Edinburgh University, is intent on optimising Britain's athletics performances at major championships, and he has made it clear that he is not afraid to withhold funding from those who are unwilling to show sufficient flexibility and open-mindedness in that quest.

"I expect there will be some rigorous and vigorous discussions," Collins said. "But conflict isn't bad in itself - the key thing is how it is dealt with."

One of the primary means by which Collins hopes to improve matters is a legally binding contract which will detail the mutual expectations of athletes and their federation. In exchange for a range of supporting measures, including technical and medical facilities, the athlete will be expected to run in certain key events and, perhaps, to accept direction from the Federation on their coaching arrangements.

Naturally Collins is hoping for a positive reaction. But he makes it clear that intransigence - such as refusing to sign an agreement, or refusing to accept the Federation's advice or direction - will leave élite athletes liable to losing their Lottery grant.

"It was a given that we needed to change things," said Collins. "We weren't converting or creating as many of the medal hopes and chances as we wanted.

"We might suggest to an athlete that a change of coach is necessary. In some cases it would be sensible that we insisted a coach was changed. And if you ask whether we might withdraw funding, the long and short of it is, yes. That would have to happen."

Where the sport previously had four technical directors, there will now be three senior performance managers who will liaise with coaches and their athletes - Alan Storey, who takes responsibility for endurance events, Aston Moore, who deals with field and combined events, and John Trower, who will take charge of sprinting.

The latter appointment may cause raised eyebrows, as Trower is a javelin coach, who guided Steve Backley's career. But Collins maintains it is not important that the SPM's have specific technical knowledge of their areas, as long as they can utilise someone who does.

The new man in charge hinted strongly that there would be job losses at UK Athletics as a result of his new measures, which would free money that could be spent on soliciting advice and support from anywhere in the world. "If I need to bring in an individual to do a better job, that's what I will do," added Collins, who accepts he will be judged by the Beijing medal count.

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