Norman return a thorny issue

Simon Turnbull argues that calls for the promoter's second coming are misguided

IT was only a matter of time before someone, somewhere near the high-profile end of British athletics, called for Andy Norman's return to the promotional vanguard of the sport.

It came on Wednesday, in an interview with Jonathan Edwards published in Athletics Weekly. Edwards pointed out that the supposed showpiece track and field events held in Britain in the past two years "have been a bit flat" and that Norman, more than anyone else, knows how to stage good meetings. Several other leading competitive lights of British athletics would doubtless welcome Norman's involvement in the future commercial running of the sport, plans for which are being formulated in the wake of the British Athletic Federation's collapse. But, then, like Edwards, such prominent British athletes as Kelly Holmes, Steve Backley and Iwan Thomas are managed by Norman.

Much as Norman's promotional skills are - like George Graham's football management ability - provenly successful, the conflict of interests that led to his particular fall from power cannot be ignored. They were pointed out on the back page of the Sunday Times on 1 August 1993 by Cliff Temple, who in addition to being the most accomplished and perceptive pen- pushing observer of the athletics scene happened to be a noble champion of the best interests of the sport. In questioning Norman's position as promotions director of the BAF, and manager of leading athletes - he called Norman a "one-man cartel" - he was articulating concerns shared by many in athletics, from grass roots through to the top level.

They were uncomfortable home truths for Norman - so uncomfortable that he spread unfounded allegations about Temple which were implicated in the suicide of the writer in January 1994. The coroner concluded Norman's actions had "tipped the balance"; Temple had also been unsettled by the break-up of his marriage and by subsequent financial problems. Norman, by the time the inquest was convened, had already been sacked by the BAF because of what was deemed to be "inappropriate conduct".

That should not be forgotten by those who would welcome Norman's return to a role of central influence within British athletics; and he has supporters beyond the athletes he represents (last summer he was appointed as a consultant by Channel 4, which owns the broadcasting rights to Britain's big meetings). Certainly, it will not be by David Moorcroft, to whom has fallen the thankless task of guiding British athletics through its financial crisis. The chief executive of the insolvent BAF was Temple's closest friend in athletics.

It ought not to be overlooked, too, that the inflated pay structure Norman introduced for Britain's leading athletes was a principal contributory factor in the bankrupting of the BAF and that even he would have struggled to promote successful meetings in the past two summers with a drastically reduced budget and no home-grown high-profile champion to provide some golden sparkle.

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