Athletics: From the darkest day for British athletics comes the prospect of a new dawn

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From my archives:

Behind the grim news of yesterday’s sackings at the British Athletic Federation the prospects are bright. Mike Rowbottom, Athletics Correspondent, discovers some reasons for the sport to be cheerful in the long term.

The blood on the carpet at the British Athletic Federation yesterday – 21 employees sacked in the aftermath of the federation’s financial collapse – generated much regret but little surprise.

Since the BAF called in the administrators three weeks ago, casualties have appeared inevitable. It emerged simultaneously, however, that help may be at hand in the form of the Amateur Athletic Association, the ancient English body whose intransigence has been partly responsible for the fall of the organisation in nominal charge of the whole sport.

In the long term, too – dare one say it – there is hope of better things to come for British athletics. If and when the BAF is finally wound up, its successor is likely to be operating in a far less cluttered landscape.

What has happened was not planned, you only had to look in the eyes of the BAF’s newly appointed chief executive, Dave Moorcroft, last month to see that. But it could yet turn out well. The Gordian knot has been cut, and all the tangled arguments about how to get rid of the archaic BAF Council structure have dropped away.

Among those proceeding with hope is Roger Black, Britain’s team captain. Despite the fact that he, in common with other top athletes, is owed many thousands of pounds by the BAF for this year’s appearances, he has rallied the athletes behind Moorcroft.

In his position as a founder of the British Athletes’ Association, Black has seen the BAF’s struggles from the inside in the last 18 months. And he has a clear vision of what the ideal set-up should be.

“The BAF should be be funded primarily by Sports Council and National Lottery money,” he said. “That would remove the dependence on getting money from television contracts and meeting sponsors.

“That side of things could be leased out to a sporting organisation which can run the events at a profit and give the BAF a share as the leaseholder. The structure of the BAF management board and council meant that big decisions could not be made quickly, as they need to be in business.

“The BAF should be run by four people. A chief executive, which would be David Moorcroft, a financial director, a commercial director who could liaise with TV to make sure they were getting value for money, and a performance director, whose sole job is to direct the sport and look after the elite Lottery-funded athletes. The BAF tried to do it all. You can’t.”

There are plans to form a small team based around Moorcroft which will create a new organisation to administer British athletics. The funding for such a team is likely to come from Sports Council funds.

“There has to be an organisation to look after British athletics,” Roger Eady, director of performance development at the UK Sports Council, said. “We have had two false starts with the British Amateur Athletic Board and the British Athletic Federation. We have got to tackle the whole structural problem of athletics in Britain.

“The new organisation will probably be a much slimmer British federation with a much narrower focus. We will be starting from a virtual clean sheet, and there are major potential advantages in that.”

A key part of the task will be to assign the AAA with a role which encourages them to be more positive – and to feel happy about laying out some of its pounds 2m of reserves.

The AAA initiative in the wake of yesterday’s dismissals offers real hope for a more positive atmosphere within British athletics. Even before the BAF called in the administrators, it had been agreed that the AAA would take on a more active role in developing the sport in England. This they are keen to do.

Just as importantly, for the first time in years, all factions of the sport agree about something: Moorcroft is the right man to lead British athletics.

The bad feeling between the AAA and the previous man in charge of the BAF, Peter Radford, made it virtually impossible for the sport to move forward in step. Many grudges remain. But the crisis has shaken those within the sport to act as they have never done before.

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