Jackson's crusade masks bigger battle

Norman Fox says the BAF may soon be faced with an athletes' union
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The Independent Online
COLIN JACKSON'S decision to boycott most of next summer's biggest domestic athletics meetings because he thinks that Professor Peter Radford, executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation, acts like a headmaster, is being played down by the federation partly because they suspect that a bigger threat is just around the next bend.

Jackson, the world 110 metres hurdles record holder, who feels he was humiliated by Radford at a meeting earlier in the year, is only one of many big names ready to embrace a professional athletes' organisation that would have real power and could not be ignored. The topic has been discussed at length by athletes who compete on the grand prix circuit as well as some leading coaches and agents who take Jackson's line that the federation's high-handed approach was the main cause of this year's protracted wranglings leading to Linford Christie's refusing to run in some BAF meetings.

Jackson's argument is more personal. Although Jackson is a founder member, with Christie, of the Nuff Respect agency, his argument is not yet being taken up by that organisation, but another member, John Regis, says he also considers himself in dispute with the federation. Jackson is one of the few top-class British athletes to have talked at length with Radford (or been spoken too, as he maintains) and he says the experience is not one he intends to repeat. Having his loyalty called into question has led him to take up a personal crusade for the resignation of Radford, which is not an immediate prospect.

For the moment, the BAF's official line is that they can dismiss Jackson's lone decision without causing much more damage to a sport badly in need of reconciliation between its top man and the leading athletes. But if other athletes take Jackson's side after proposed discussions during the winter, the federation's stoical attitude could lead to an Olympic summer of discontent.

The BAF's official spokesman, Tony Ward, has been at pains to emphasise that they are not looking for confrontation and will go to great lengths to set up further talks. However, he warns Jackson and any other athletes making threats that the sport will go on without them and look to its youngsters. "It would be a matter of regret, but we would have to say 'Sorry folks, these people will not be competing in Britain.' " Unfortunately, television and sponsors would see a sport again without some of its top stars as a lame duck.

Jackson has been careful to say that although he is still furious about Radford virtually suggesting he was lying about an injury when he pulled out of this summer's AAA championships, he knows that he has to compete in next season's BAF-organised Olympic trials. But while many athletes are uncertain about Radford's leadership, others, particularly at club level, are equally unhappy about the antics of the top professional competitors who seem hell-bent on destroying his credibility.

The problem for the BAF is that with television and sponsorship cash hard to get, they are not in a position to take on the equivalent of an athletes' union. This week they admitted that their finances were not in good order, having suffered from the absence at several meetings this summer of Christie and the injured Sally Gunnell. With Regis below his best form, too much depended on people such as Jonathan Edwards and Steve Backley, who performed splendidly but, in the long term, are not going to keep athletics in Britain in the forefront of sporting and therefore, television's interest. Radford will be haunted by his statement earlier last week that relations between himself and the Nuff Respect athletes were "much better".