Moorcroft picks up athletics' poisoned chalice

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The Independent Online
If anyone can do something about the fragmented nature of British athletics then Dave Moorcroft, who was named yesterday as British athletics' new chief executive, is the man.

The 44-year-old former 5,000 metres world record holder, who fills the gap vacated by Peter Radford three months ago, has a deserved reputation as one of the nicest men in the sport. It was typical of him that after the official announcement was made in London, he planned to get back home to Coventry for his regular Thursday night track session with his 16-year- old son, Paul.

Moorcroft, however, stressed that he would bring an underlying toughness to the pounds 70,000 a year job which he will take up on 1 October. He will need it. Radford's period of office was blighted by losses of half a million pounds, a costly pay dispute with leading athletes including Linford Christie and Colin Jackson, and an on-going lawsuit by Diane Modahl who is seeking a further pounds 500,000 in damages following her successful appeal against a doping ban.

"There are extremely tough people who hide behind quiet exteriors and lots of people who give the impression of being tough but who have little substance," Moorcroft said.

"I have a conviction of what I think is the right way to do things. I do not believe I need to be liked by everybody, but I'd like to be respected. I hope the determination I have shown in other areas of my life will be there while I do this job. I will take decisions and stand by them."

His predecessor, who took over at the head of the newly formed British Athletic Federation three years ago, found it ultimately impossible to carry the sport with him as he attempted to professionalise the top level. Radford encountered increasing animosity from the rank and file of the sport, who felt he was concentrating on the elite at their expense. His efforts took place amid falling revenue from sponsorship and television contracts.

Communication was not Radford's forte. Moorcroft, who has spent the last three years developing his role as a commentator for the BBC - a job he will now give up - is patently a better performer in that area.

Asked to comment on the latest example of poor communication within the sport - the failure of selectors to inform the team captain, Roger Black, that he was not in the individual 400m team for the World Championships before he heard it from the media - Moorcroft said: "I think the decision the selectors came to was appropriate within their terms of reference. If there was a problem it was the process beyond that."

Moorcroft also has a pedigree as a performer on the track, but what made him a favourite for a job that attracted 120 applicants was his proven ability as an administrator. After teaching for a number of years, he established a thriving community sports project - Centre AT7 - in his home town of Coventry. More recently, he was appointed chairman of the company set up by the BAF to administer National Lottery funding.

Moorcroft's role will differ from that of Radford's in that he will not be chairman of the management board. He will have the power to hire and fire, but will not be a selector. "He is a man who has the ability to bring this sport of ours together," the BAF chairman, Ken Rickhuss, said.

Moorcroft has regularly attended BAF endurance conferences in recent years, and has advised many athletes, including the world cross-country silver medallist Paula Radcliffe, on a regular basis. Malcolm Arnold, the BAF chief coach, welcomed the appointment. "He's a good man, his heart and soul are in the sport," Arnold said.

"Dave is very popular, but that is not what is going to determine his success in the job. All parts of the sport have to down their axes and put their shoulder to the wheel. Popularity is one thing. Giving him a chance and assisting him is the real thing. Ultimately it is the people in the sport who will determine his success."

Radford's first major task in 1994 was to execute the dismissal of Andy Norman from his role as promotions officer of the BAF for inappropriate conduct following the charge that he had contributed to the suicide of athletics writer Cliff Temple by making allegations of sexual harassment against him.

Moorcroft, a close friend of Temple, was a strong critic of Norman, calling for his dismissal. Norman, who has maintained a successful career as agent for leading athletes such as Jonathan Edwards and Kelly Holmes, was recently given a role advising Channel 4 on their coverage. Moorcroft's appointment is likely to limit his growing influence in British athletics.

"My thoughts on Andy are well documented and go back a number of years," Moorcroft said. "It is right that Andy no longer works for the federation. But it is equally right that people who choose to use his talents are able to do so."