British Olympic Association chief criticises move to give prize money to track and field gold medallists

UK

A decision by athletics bosses to pay Olympic gold medallists was inappropriate and has created problems with other sports, Team GB’s boss has told Sky News.

Last week’s announcement by World Athletics president Lord Sebastian Coe was a surprise because sports have never awarded prize money in the 128-year history of the Olympics.

Gold medallists in track and field will earn $50,000 (around £39,400) in Paris this summer before silver and bronze winners are also paid from Los Angeles 2028.

The decision stunned the British Olympic Association, which Lord Coe chaired until 2016.

“What wasn’t great about the announcement last week is when one sport goes off and does something on their own, doesn’t include the sports, doesn’t include the IOC, doesn’t include the National Olympic Committees,” BOA chief executive Andy Anson told Sky News.

“They create a problem because now other sports are clearly going to get some scrutiny or even pressure from athletes saying, ‘Well what about us? How can this sport do it and not others?’.

“I don’t think it’s particularly appropriate or helpful for one sport just to announce that.”

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The International Olympic Committee was only informed by World Athletics just before the announcement last Wednesday and not consulted by Lord Coe.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe at the 2023 World Athletics Championships. Pic: Reuters
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World Athletics president Lord Sebastian Coe. Pic: Reuters

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Mr Anson warned of the risks of creating a divide between sports and said it “seems even worse” athletics was only initially paying out to Olympic champions.

“We’ve got to look at it holistically and make sure that we don’t create a two tier system,” he said.

Team GB is targeting a top-five finish on the medals table, having ranked in the top four at every Summer Olympics since 2008.

Mr Anson said: I know there’s all these political issues knocking around.

“But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that in 100 days, we’ve got the most exciting Olympic Games happening on our doorstep, in the most beautiful city, with the most beautiful venues, with hundreds of thousands of Team GB fans crossing the Channel to go and support our team.

“And I want everyone to feel the excitement because in this building we’re ready to go. We’re prepared.”

Mr Anson was speaking in an interview to mark 100 days – today – until the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics, which is being staged in an unprecedented manner down the River Seine.

Group of athletes at the track ready to run. Pic: iStock
Image:
Pic: iStock

But French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged for the first time this week that the show might be restored to the traditional stadium setting if the security threat is deemed too great.

I’m clearly concerned,” Mr Anson said. “It’s one of the most important things that we have to manage from a risk perspective.

“We’d be naive if we weren’t thinking about that. Our number one priority is to keep all our athletes, our broader entourage and our fans safe.”

He said the opening ceremony “is a high risk environment and that’s got to be managed accordingly, but the French are very, very aware of that”.

The risks are heightened by conflicts in the Middle East and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

But the UK government has ended its opposition to athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus even competing as neutrals in Paris.

Mr Anson said: “The restrictions in terms of no military personnel, no one who supported the conflict publicly… means that you are getting proper neutrality. And I think now it’s time to move on from that debate.”

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Another debate in sport is over transgender eligibility policies and Mr Anson leans towards the government’s view that only those born female should compete in women’s sports.

“We’ve got to protect the women’s category and make sure it’s sacrosanct – and that women are competing fairly on a fair stage,” he said.

“We know that in the broader context, we also have to be sympathetic and embrace diversity and make sure that people feel included and not victimised in any way.”

Team GB is not expecting to have any trans athletes qualify for Paris.

The generally accepted position seems to be, if you have gone through puberty as a male, you have an inherent advantage for the rest of your life,” Mr Anson said.

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A separately challenging issue for Team GB is the potential return to the Olympics for sprinter CJ Ujah following a 22-month drugs ban.

Team GB was stripped of silver in the 4X100 relay at the Tokyo Olympics after he tested positive for traces of ostarine, used to treat muscle wasting, and S-23, which promotes muscle growth.

The 30-year-old has been selected in Britain’s relay squad for the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas in May, opening a path back to the Olympics.

“He let everyone down by what he did in Tokyo, without a doubt,” Mr Anson said.

“So he now needs to go a step further than everyone else in proving that he’s beyond that, that he is actually helping other people address the issues that he created. So yeah, so it doesn’t sit that comfortably.”

CJ Ujah is back in the fold after serving his ban. Pic: PA
Image:
CJ Ujah. Pic: PA

But Team GB is unable to punish an athlete twice for the same offence.

“We have to accept that if he’s nominated, he’ll be part of the team,” Mr Anson said. “But we’ll make sure that we impress on him that he needs to help others avoid the pitfalls that he created for himself and others in Tokyo.”

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