UKA: Money But No Gold

All the money, none of the gold

David Moorcroft has sorted out his sport’s finances, but winning medals is proving far more difficult. Duncan Mackay reports

Sunday August 6, 2006
The Observer

David Moorcroft, the chief executive of UK Athletics, has offered his support to Dave Collins, the sport’s performance director, and backed him to turn round Britain’s fortunes in time for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Collins is this week set to preside over Britain’s worst performance at a European Championships for 40 years. That, linked to accusations that he made a bad error in allowing teenage sprinter Harry Aikines-Aryeetey to travel to train with Justin Gatlin’s coach, Trevor Graham, earlier this year, have led to calls from some for Collins to step down.

But Moorcroft, the former 5,000 metres world-record holder who has recently faced doubts over his future, is confident Collins, who has been in the role for 17 months and last year oversaw Britain’s worst performance at the world championships, can stop the sport’s decline.
‘I’m really confident we have the right person to turn it around in Dave Collins,’ said Moorcroft. 'We’ve got to commit to Dave’s programme and give it a chance to work. There is a huge amount of work we do on a daily basis, but it would be foolish to look at Gothenburg in the context of London 2012.

'The public deal very much in today, but we can’t afford to do that. The down period of 1976 [when Britain won only one medal at the Montreal Olympics] was followed quite quickly by some wonderful years in the 80s. If you look at the talent going to Beijing for the world junior championships later this month and beyond that they are pretty special. There are people who do look like they could be really good athletes. The current generation is at least as talented as those who have gone before.

‘Whatever the sport was 20 years ago it isn’t the same now. We can’t rely on just the fact that athletics happens and if you keep your fingers crossed great talent emerges. We have to be much more systematic about how we find talent. The gene pool hasn’t changed, but it appears less great talent is emerging. We have to make sure every talented athlete gets the chance and we nurture that talent. We’ll never have a better opportunity than the 2012 Olympics and we have to make sure everything is right. The ingredients are simple: you get a talented athlete who has a work ethic and who can produce it on the days it matters.’

Britain has not failed to win fewer than six gold medals at the European Championships since 1982, but are not predicted to claim one this year, although Collins has said he is looking overall for the team to collect a total of 10 medals.

Moorcroft is pinning his hopes on youngsters such as the long jumper Greg Rutherford, the 400m hurdler Rhys Williams, the 400m runner Tim Benjamin and 800m runner Becky Lyne showing signs that they have what it takes to make the step up to world class.

‘We aren’t going to get loads of gold medals in Gothenburg, but we will be looking for people to raise their game,’ he said. 'I think 10 medals would be a stretch. If we got a couple of golds we would be very grateful. My view is that we have to start getting people within striking distance of being world class. If we get many people into finals and they raise their game, that would be a good start. There are people in there who are capable of doing well.

'I fear it will take beyond the 2008 Olympics in Beijing for the real world-class talent to emerge. We haven’t got anyone going into Gothenburg as a gold-medal favourite and will go into the Olympics and the world championships [in Osaka next year] in a similar situation. While there is always a transition, this seems a huge transition.

‘The culture of the sport is drifting towards mediocrity. There’s loads of activity in our sport, but not a huge amount of ambition. We have to get people locally to become more ambitious during the next six years and embrace the opportunity we have. Years ago people ran because they wanted to be great runners. Now the majority of people run for health and fitness, which is great, but it’s taken the edge off the elite end of the sport.’

Moorcroft has overseen a dramatic upturn in the financial fortunes of athletics while at the same seeing the elite performance end nosedive alarmingly.
He took over just as the old British Athletic Federation went bankrupt, but it is now the richest federation of its kind in the world, thanks to a £50m sponsorship deal with Norwich Union and support from the national lottery and the government.

But it remains riven with infighting.

‘I think the majority of people in the sport want it to be successful and the new structure to work,’ said Moorcroft. 'We are wealthier than we have ever been, but now we need to get the very best to turn the sport inside out. That can only be done by an army of leaders who are all focused on one objective - and that is to raise the standard of performance in every event, every age-group and every region.

‘As a sport we have tended to look inward and not looked at the great opportunities we have. The prospect of getting to the London Olympics 2012 with the best facilities and staging the greatest Olympics ever but not having a successful sport is unthinkable. Failure is not an option.’