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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 18:52 GMT
Johnson tells athletes to deliver
By Scarlett Elworthy

Michael Johnson celebrates winning 400m gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
Britain needs to demand more from its top athletes if it is to enjoy greater success on the world stage, according to track legend Michael Johnson.

America's former Olympic champion told delegates at the BBC Sport Summit: "One of the things you get wrong here is rewarding underachievement.

"The national pride that is so great is often used to protect and coddle.

"It has created an atmosphere where it is acceptable for the standards to be lower than they should be."

Johnson - the first athlete to achieve the 200m-400m Olympic sprint double at the 1996 Atlanta Games - was one of several keynote speakers at the national summit, which brought leading figures from the world of sport together to debate today's big sporting issues.

The forum at BBC Television Centre on Wednesday was the culmination of 13 regional conferences held around the UK in a joint initiative between the BBC, Sport England and UK Sport.

I think the sub-par medal haul from the (GB) athletics team in Athens was not down to the lack of talent but due to lower standards
Michael Johnson

It is not the first time Johnson has criticised British sport.

Last year, during the Athens Olympics, the BBC pundit was involved in a verbal spat with Team GB sprinter Darren Campbell.

Johnson cast doubt on Campbell's claims he had torn a hamstring in the wake of his failure to reach the 100m and 200m finals.

He added: "There is a lot of talent in Britain's current group of Olympic athletes.

"I think the sub-par medal haul from the (GB) athletics team in Athens was not down to the lack of talent, but due to lower standards.

"Sometimes you don't hold athletes accountable. In the US we are constantly bashing and criticising and, negative as it may sound, that is what helps us as athletes reach our full potential."

Britain won 30 medals, including nine golds, in Greece - the best tally since Los Angeles in 1984, which was hit by an Eastern Bloc boycott.

He also added that the UK needed to strengthen grassroots sport, but said the summit - though "dialogue"- was a starting point to tackling such issues.

Sports Minister Richard Caborn
Caborn hailed the Sport Summit as "very successful"

Delegates also heard from Sports Minister Richard Caborn and Mark Thompson, BBC director general.

Mr Caborn praised the BBC Sport Summit project.

"It's been very successful," he said. "It's gone beyond the team's expectations and the regional summit I attended in the North west was first-class.

"You felt people wanted to make a contribution to the future. It's been about ideas and suggestions to improve the infrastructure of sport in this country."

He also urged the various governing bodies to work together to raise levels of participation and elite success.

"My message to sport is: 'If you want to affect Whitehall, work together in partnership' because that means government can invest with confidence."

Thompson said the BBC was committed to "broadening the whole portfolio of sport and to finding new ways to express the excitement and drama of sport" through new technologies such as BBC Sport Interactive.

Roger Draper, the chief executive of Sport England, Sue Campbell the chair of UK Sport, and the head of BBC Sport, Peter Salmon, also took part.

Draper echoed the Sports Minister's sentiments in urging organisations to pull together.

Meanwhile, Campbell encouraged delegates to be more positive about the present and the future.

School sport was one of the subjects under the microscope in the BBC Sport Summits
School sport was one of the subjects that came under the microscope during the summits

"We are not always very good at celebrating our successes," she said.

"Over the last few years we have seen a government that has really begun to accept the power of sport to realise many other agendas.

"We really can make a massive contribution to health, law and order and education - we've always known that and now the government is beginning to realise it too.

"School sport is receiving unprecedented levels of funding - 1bn over the next four years.

"But if we cannot change our systems, then the buck will stop with us. We can no longer complain that we don't have the money."

Salmon said the summits were an example of the way the BBC hoped to help British sport move forward.

Delegates also agreed that a successful London 2012 Olympic bid would be a tremendous boost for sport.

Leading names from football were also present including Ipswich chairman David Sheepshanks and Trevor Brooking - the Football Association's director of development.

Joining them was another sporting legend Sir Roger Bannister the first man to break the four-minute mile, Great Britain Olympic rowing silver medallist Kath Grainger, BBC athletics summariser Allison Curbishley and chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, David Moffett.

The event was presented by BBC athletics commentator Steve Cram.

Links to more Sport Summit stories


BBC Sports Summit: Q&A
15 Mar 05 |  Other Sport
Is school sport failing our children?
14 Mar 05 |  Other Sport
What are the hot topics in sport?
13 Mar 05 |  Sport Homepage
Campbell fuels Johnson feud
26 Aug 04 |  Athletics


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