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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Central contracts for GB athletes
Marlon Devonish (L) and Mark Lewis-Francis stumble at the Commonwealth Games
England's 100m relay team crashed out of the heats in Melbourne
Britain's leading athletes are to be put on central contracts in an attempt to improve their results, governing body UK Athletics has announced.

The move comes in the wake of a disappointing Commonwealth Games for all four home nations.

UK Athletics said the move would ensure British athletes would be "strictly accountable for their performances".

The governing body also revealed a six-year sponsorship deal with Norwich Union worth nearly 50m.

"This is all about development. It's the lifeblood of the sport," said UK Athletics performance director Dave Collins.

"Somewhere out there is the next Dean Macey (Commonwealth decathlon gold medallist). We need to take that young athlete and develop his skills all the way up to Olympic level.

"We will be able to provide more athletes with personal coaches and take more coaches out early to the training camps in Beijing before the 2008 Olympics."

It's important for us all to know exactly where we stand and what is expected of us
UK Kelly Sotherton

UK Athletics is determined to act following a Commonwealth Games which saw athletes from the home nations win just 23 track and field medals.

No UK male athlete reached the finals of the 200m and 800m and just Marlon Devonish made the 100m final.

Devonish went out in the 200m semis, while Darren Campbell was disqualified in the heats.

Mark Lewis-Francis was also disqualified from the 100m while England's 4x100m relay team went out in the heats after a poor handover.

"Athletes can choose to be outside the contract," said UK Athletics deputy chief executive Adam Walker. "However this means they won't benefit from lottery funding, television event programming and other commercial activities."

Dean Macey celebrates his Commonwealth decathlon gold
Macey has targeted gold at the Olympics in Beijing

Kelly Sotherton, who won heptathlon gold at the Commonwealth Games, welcomed the introduction of central contracts.

"It's important for us all to know exactly where we stand and what is expected of us," she said.

"The sport is accountable for our performances and it's only right that we should also be individually accountable too."

The sponsorship with Norwich Union begins on 1 January next year and will run until after the 2012 Olympics in London.

The deal covers four areas, elite performance, junior athlete development, investment in the sport at grassroots levels and a "Legacy for 2012" which will be aimed at preparing British athletes to win medals at the London Games.

Investment in grassroots athletics will almost treble and UK Athletics estimates that more than 10 million children and 1.5 million families will be involved in the various schemes by 2012.

There will also be training for more than 100,000 teachers in more than 25,000 secondary and primary schools to coach the sport.

"We have been thrilled with the support Norwich Union has given the sport since 1999 and are delighted they are to continue the partnership," said UK Athletics chief executive David Moorcroft.

"The current crop of very talented juniors is testament to the long-term foundations provided at grassroots level and due to Norwich Union's long-term commitment, the sport will be able to build on this platform."

Commonwealth decathlon champion Dean Macey added: "Norwich Union's continued and increased support for athletics means that the British team will be able to receive the best possible preparation for major championships.

"Athletes like myself will have an excellent programme of domestic meetings to check our progress against the best in the world on home soil."

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