LEADING ARTICLE : And it's run for the money

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The Independent Online
Linford Christie, allegedly unfit when it comes to representing his country, miraculously declares himself able to turn out in a big-budget money-spinner in Zurich. Is this yet another example of the greed rampant in athletics?

Christie ruled himself out of next week's meeting between Britain and the United States at Gateshead, after hamstring and knee injuries ruined his World Championship defence. Following a week of intensive treatment however, he feels well enough to race again, and will be paid some pounds 40,000 for his Swiss appearance. His manager has now told the British Athletics Federation (BAF) that he will run at Gateshead if he comes through at Zurich unscathed. The BAF, which has already clashed with Christie after targeting him in a crackdown on rising appearance fees, is far from happy.

But it is the big names like Christie that the public wants to see. He exudes charisma, runs like the wind and promoters want him on the starting- line. In return Christie expects to be paid. There is no reason why Christie should not appear at Zurich. We should not begrudge him the money.

The value accorded to sportsmen and women is related to the spectators and sponsorship deals they attract. Television battles over the right to screen rugby union will lead to players being paid next season. Big name signings in football receive big pay packets but - or because - they also double season-ticket sales. Money changes hands depending on what the rights to these performances are worth. More and more sportsmen and women are demanding ownership of these rights as highly valued performers.

But, the traditionalist might ask, what of the lowly shot-putter who doesn't command the big appearance fee? Well, perhaps Linford could offer him a lift home in his smart car. We shouldn't demand that they both take home the same pay. After all, the high-flying accountant is paid much more than the junior clerk.

The problem comes because athletics has not kept up with these changes in sport. Earlier in the season there was an outcry when another big name, Colin Jackson, pulled out of the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) national championship complaining of injury. He appeared the next day at a meeting in Padua, Italy for pounds 30,000. The complaint should not be that Jackson wanted to appear in Italy rather than at the AAA. Athletes should be allowed to choose the events in which they compete - they should not have to resort to subterfuge. If they do not want to appear in a particular event they should simply say so. The critics should get off their high horses.

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