Moorcroft puts faith in healing

New man at the top has much to put behind him before he can go forward. Norman Fox reports
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The Independent Online
On the morning after the remarkably well-kept secret of his appointment as the British Athletic Federation's new chief executive was revealed, David Moorcroft woke half expecting to remind himself that though more than 120 others wanted the job it was still the one with the expectation of professional longevity and success of the England football manager. In fact, though, and unlike several of his failed predecessors, he knew exactly what he was taking on - a sport too often in disarray.

"The process of my appointment has taken such a long time that I had plenty of time to think about all the various elements," he said yesterday. "Obviously there is always going to be a degree of uncertainty, but I've covered every eventuality in my mind and talked it over with the key people." That includes the latest controversy over the decision not to pick Roger Black for the world championships 400 metres.

Problems like resolving athletics' relentless internecine battles and the need for the sport to present itself more positively are obvious, but Moorcroft also realises that several of his predecessors did little to persuade the hundreds of volunteer officials that not all of the professional BAF staff were inept, and vice-versa.

His immediate predecessor, Professor Peter Radford, was brought down not so much by personal aloofness as by failure to bridge the divides. Moorcroft said: "Athletics only survives because of the people who give up their time free of charge - coaching is based on that. There are also many people who work for the federation's commissions and are very competent and successful in their own professions. They can bring that competence to the sport. For the foreseeable future we will require a balance between the professional and honorary staff. In other sports, like tennis and golf, once you reach a certain level you go on to a different plateau so you lose touch with grass roots, but in athletics even the highest- level performers still retain a reasonable contact with the club. I've been a member of a club for 30 years, so I hope that's going to be an advantage. But the big challenge is to marry the professional function with that of the amateurs."

In his favour is the ability to communicate both as a member of the media and as an athlete, whose last track performances were recent enough for him to be viewed as an equal both by young athletes and members of the international squads, who have at last been allowed some say in the running of their own sport. Ironically, Moorcroft's greatest ally in the now powerful athletes' association could well be Black. A lot of the outcry over the selectors' insensitive decision was to do with the federation's failure to notify him personally. Moorcroft says that in future he expects any British captain to be one of the first to know the names of the team.

He pointed out that the present selection policy was supported by the athletes. "There is no way of overcoming controversies over selection, but the policy now is the most popular for a long time. The first two in the trials are guaranteed a place and the third is at the discretion of the selectors. That's a fair way of doing it and the athletes agreed. Roger was disappointed but didn't complain about the decision itself, it was what happened after it was made that caused the problem. The athletes are listened too now more than at any other time."

Moorcroft has already gone a long way towards healing Black's personal hurt, but the sport still has a multitude of scars left over from years of in-fighting between the federation, the Amateur Athletic Association and the regions. His immediate challenge, though, is to unravel the confusion over Lottery funds. He has the advantage of having spent the past month acting as chairman of a new company set up by the federation to administer the Lottery grants

For the moment the situation is complicated by the fact that the English and UK Sports Councils have yet to agree to a pounds 2.6m plan put forward by the federation's performance director, Malcolm Arnold. Many athletes who had been expecting substantial financial help have been disappointed and Arnold says the situation is "chaotic". He added that if people were unhappy about his own efforts he would resign. Welcome to athletics administration.