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Fans suffer as athletics left lacking in leadership.

Byline: By John Gibson

We were all given a lecture, fully understood, that if Gateshead wasn't filled as near to capacity as didn't matter then Tyneside would in all probability be wiped off the international calendar.

Yet last weekend at the AAA Championships, doubling as the World Trials, what did we see? More empty seats than on a double decker bus at midnight.

The public of Birmingham stayed away in their droves because the big names in domestic athletics were all missing once again - either through injury, illness or simply an unwillingness to compete. Yet 48 hours later all absentees were named for Paris.

It was the second time this year that so-called trials had failed to deliver all the big names and that spineless body, UK Athletics, must rectify the situation which hugely annoyed backers Norwich Union and the BBC.

The public were right to stay away, of course, because Birmingham represented one of the worst AAA Championships in living memory.

So what will the governing body do? Well, so far the only suggestion from its chief executive David Moorcroft is that the word "trial" might be inappropriate and the matter should be discussed.

The problem for UK Athletics is that they actually don't want to govern the sport but merely "co-ordinate and support it." Now that's real leadership.

While many wish to get tougher with athletes, fining them for missing the trials and national championships, UK Athletics live in constant fear of litigation - originally engendered by a string of drug cases - and consequently athletes can do pretty much as they want.

The paying public, however, must be given the opportunity to see the athletes they help to fund through the Lottery compete on home soil. It's all right pandering in the hope of a huge medal return in Paris but you can't lecture punters and then supply little encouragement for them to desert the barbecue in the back garden.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2003
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