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Norman Fox says ITV may balk at the lack of Linford in Gateshead today
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The Independent Online
WHILE the British Athletic Federation is haggling with Linford Christie and other top performers over appearance money - which means they will not be at the Gateshead Games today - an important source of income could disappear in the form of an unrenewed television contract.

The meeting is to be shown under ITV's two-year agreement, but its option on two further years, meaning the contract would yield a total of over pounds 5m, may be spurned. With Christie and John Regis refusing to run, Colin Jackson ill (although he was not intending to appear anyway), and Sally Gunnell injured, ITV is questioning its investment. Trevor East, Head of Sport, said: "I recognise the BAF's situation but both sides have dug in their heels. I'm not going to throw loads of money at anyone. In the long term it could be very damaging."

Today's programme will be fronted by Jim Rosenthal, who added: "When you enter into a contract you expect it to be honoured and for the heavyweights to appear. The whole situation is very worrying - especially for the future. No one seems to know what's happening."

After being diverted by the comparative glory of seeing a depleted British team show an unexpected breadth of talent in last week's Europa Cup and basking in the extraordinary length of Jonathan Edwards's triple jump, athletics can no longer hide from its most pressing problem. Today's meeting will no doubt have another bunch of willing legs, but the team is headless without Christie and the rest.

Mike Whittingham, coach, agent and adviser to the BAF, said: "A lot of our top athletes have already signed agreements with the BAF but the sport is not being helped by the fact that a few do not seem to be clear about the facts, and that's a great shame because there's a lot of positive things going on. It's all very well the athletes asking the federation to be more professional, but they should be as well. We seem to be losing sight of the fact that we ought to be lobbying the Government for more finance, particularly in the build-up to the Olympic Games."

It appears that the BAF is determined to reduce the grip of agents, who refuse to lessen the fees of their athletes when, in spite of Bupa's transfusion of an estimated pounds 500,000 last week, the sport is still in a bad way financially.

While it is generally agreed that poor communication is the crux of the impasse, some leading competitors say the BAF is being unrealistic in suggesting that the top athletes, without whom the sport would attract little sponsorship or TV money, should take what is in effect a pay cut (the offer to Christie is believed to be unchanged from last season: pounds 25,000 per televised meeting, but this year there are fewer of them).

One of Britain's most experienced runners, the London Marathon winner Eamonn Martin, said: "I can't see how Christie can take a cut - he's still the big draw. In the long term, it's going to backfire on the BAF if they sign contracts and can't get the top names to compete.

"They may save some money if Linford doesn't run, but they're not promoting the sport. It's a short-term attitude and if they're not careful Sky will come in and buy up the whole thing in this country."

Edwards confirms his financial assistance to date has been "very little". It would improve greatly if he broke the world record today. Curiously, the triple jump has suddenly become fascinating because Britain's Ashia Hansen also won in Lille and has broken the national record five times. Among other athletes hoping to make up for the absence of the stars is Rob Denmark, up against some top-class Kenyans in the 5,000m.

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