Olympic warm-up event in jeopardy

Hockey BILL COLWILL reports from Atlanta
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The Independent Online


reports from Atlanta

A major pre-Olympic tournament involving some of the world's leading hockey nations is under threat because the facilities here are incomplete. With less than 100 days to go to the start of the games, the practice pitches are not ready and the competition pitch is unavailable - which is an embarrassment for the host city.

Great Britain, Pakistan, India, Argentina and South Korea have travelled here to join the United States in the prestigious Six Nations Pre-Olympic Tournament, which is scheduled to start today on what is supposed to be the Olympic practice pitch.

The problems started when the two artificial grass pitches being prepared for the Games were found to be unsatisfactory when they were completed last summer, and were dug up. There were delays in starting the new construction work and although the pitch at the 15,000-seat Morris Brown Stadium, where this week's tournament should have taken place, has been completed, the stadium cannot yet be used by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games because of contractual difficulties with the constructors.

Furthermore, the main pitch at the Clark Atlanta University Ground, the practice venue, has still not been laid - the site yesterday resembled a concrete car park. A disappointed and frustrated David Whittle, the British team manager, said: "We have come all the way here for an elite tournament and we need to play quality hockey for our development and selection purposes, but in no way am I prepared to jeopardise the safety of Olympic athletes without involving the players themselves. We will see what the practice brings forth."

Whittle has tried to persuade the US Field Association to switch the event to California, with the participating countries meeting some of the costs. This was ruled out as being logistically and financially unacceptable.

Eric Donegani, the Canadian Tournament Director, who first became aware of the problems less than two weeks ago, said: "It is all less than perfect but I'm hoping that we can keep the tournament on. A lot of people have come a long way. My aim is to maintain an official competition."

A spokesman for the USFHA, Marc Whitney, said how disappointed it was that Morris Brown was unavailable to test the Olympic facilities. He insisted it was not for lack of effort. It is, however, hard to believe in this city in transition - where helicopters have been hovering low to dry out building sites and where Billy Payne, the chairman of ACOG, claims that 50 years of improvements in public works have been crammed into the space of a couple of years - that greater effort and foresight could not have prevented this unfortunate situation.