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General News Bristol, Great Britain

Politics overshadows the sport

On a day when the pages of the British press were ripe with condemnation of the British government for their decision to withdraw London as a candidate for the 2005 World Championships, one could only feel sympathy for the hardworking representatives of Bristol’s local organising committee and UK Athletics, who had hoped that the news would have been about athletics, and specifically what is set to be a classic edition of the World Half Marathon Championships.

Even though Bristol councillor Richard Pyle expressed, with enthusiasm, his delight at welcoming representatives of the biggest sporting event ever held in the west of England, and described with affection the landmarks of Bristol historical harbour area that would form a backdrop to the action, it was inevitable that most of the questions put to Lamine Diack and UKA president David Hemery this lunchtime were about the Pickett’s Lock debacle.

The IAAF president admitted frankly that he was “very, very disappointed” with the decision and that the British government had been wrong to promise, on more than one occasion, what they seemed finally to be unable to deliver.

“We awarded the championships to London in exceptional circumstances when there was no stadium," said Diack. "First we were going to go to Wembley, then Twickenham, and then Pickett’s Lock – a site I was invited to visit just some months ago. And now we have been told that it is too expensive to go there. It is very surprising and makes me believe that the government does not believe that athletics is an important sport.

“This is very difficult for me to accept as Britain has had so many great athletes – in the sprints and middle and long-distance running, and the race walks and throws and combined events. And how many other federations have a CEO who was a world record-holder and a president who was also a world record-holder and Olympic champion. Is it really true that London is not capable of hosting major sports events?

“British athletics has worked extremely hard over the past years to emerge from a difficult situation and has done so with style. It is for this reason that the IAAF, and myself in particular, are very happy to be here today, just as we will be happy to return in 2003 for the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.”

The IAAF president’s palpable sense of disappointment was reflected by his counterpart from UK Athletics, Hemery, who said: “British athletics feels substantially let down. But there is also embarrassment. For me, what is worse than losing the championships is the fact that Britain has reneged on a promise.”

But amid all the doom and gloom, Hemery was keen to accentuate the positive: “I sincerely hope that you will write about the fact that 58 countries have come to Britain to take part in a World Championship athletics event. That should be the real story."

Nick Davies for the IAAF