Jackson's actions highlight problem

Mike Rowbottom believes the class divide in athletics is becoming a chasm
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The Independent Online
The posters around Birmingham's Alexander Stadium at the weekend promised "world class athletics". The British supporter standing at the stadium bar on Saturday afternoon was sceptical.

Dressed in a T-shirt from the 1991 European Cup in Frankfurt, one of many championships he had attended, he described the KP National Championships and trials as a mockery.

"They should go back to what they had in 1988," he said. "First two past the post go through. And they should make athletes do their own events. What use is it for Tony Jarrett to run the 200 metres rather than the high hurdles?"

His general frustration will be shared this week by members of the British Athletic Federation, who have seen the centrepiece of the domestic season fractured by controversy and dispute.

The decision to give Linford Christie a second chance to run after he had failed to qualify in the 100m, no matter that it pleased television and sponsors and gave the Olympic champion a valuable opportunity to assess his troublesome hamstring, was rightly criticised as setting a precedent that undermined the championships themselves.

The situation with Colin Jackson was almost the opposite - a case of too little, rather than too much. On the face of it, Jackson misled the federation and the man who has coached him for 15 years, Britain's chief coach Malcolm Arnold, about the state of his fitness when he pulled out of the championships, claiming a muscle injury, only to run a hurdles race the next day in Italy.

But, speaking to him on Saturday, he seemed genuinely saddened about not being able to continue in the 100m event, and spoke regretfully about his Welsh record of 10.29sec - "I was going to annihilate it," he said.

His demeanour was not that of a man in the act of giving two fingers to the federation. He talked openly - if not widely - about competing the next day, appearing unconcerned, if a little vague, about his injury and his intentions of competing in the World Championships next month.

It seemed clear that Jackson, having fulfilled his obligation to appear at the national trials, was simply resuming his own agenda. And his comments yesterday - "I can't really see what the whole fuss is about . . . my honest opinion is that I should be the one to decide my destiny" - bear that out.

The root problem facing the federation now is that they are dealing with two different sports under the same name - the amateur and professional ethos co-exist with increasing unease.

The BAF chief executive, Peter Radford, said on Sunday that rule changes would be made on selection in order to prevent repetitions of the Jackson situation. But the International Amateur Athletic Federation guideline, which says that athletes pulling out of a competition because of injury may not compete elsewhere within three days, has already run foul of civil law and the question of restraint of trade. Finding an operable solution now is of crucial importance.