Tokyo Olympiad’s High Performance Couple Robbie Brightwell and Anne Packer Part 4: Fighting for Athletes’ Rights

robbie-brightwell-in-white-city-from-his-autobiography
Robbie Brightwell, from his autobiography

The headline read “Olympic Team Revolts”.

With only two weeks to go before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the London press was saying that the Great Britain Athletics team was insubordinate over television fees, and that their captain, Robbie Brightwell was leading the insurrection.

The BBC was doing a pre-Olympics show with the hopes of interviewing members of Team GB before they took off for Tokyo. Appearing on television or radio often resulted in payments to the athletes. In order to protect their amateur status, very often a third of these fees were, based upon an agreement with the media, would go to the charity of their choosing (after two thirds were deducted for administrative and tax purposes). Those in track and field commonly sent their fees to the International Athletics Club (IAC), who organized training fees and helped absorb parts of their participation fees in meets, for example.

To the surprise of the athletes, they learned that the BBC had made a separate agreement with the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB), the sports authority accountable to selecting those to compete in the Olympics, which required the television fees to be sent to the BAAB.

The athletes felt that the BAAB were not responsive to their needs. For example, the athletes requested a pre-Tokyo training camp, but was rejected by the BAAB, which only got involved once the IAC agreed to fund such a training camp. When Brightwell explained the situation to his team, he wrote in his autobiography, that his teammates felt their individual rights were being violated:

“Hold on,” said one, “this isn’t a simple contractual dispute between two parties. It involves personal liberties. Whilst the Board is acting quite properly negotiating fixture contracts, that right doesn’t extend to binding individuals to appear in interviews. That is a personal matter for us to decide.”

“And there’s another important principle at stake,” added another. “Apart from flouting our right to decide whether we wished to appear on television, the Board is also set upon pocketing our appearance money.”

“That’s right,” piped up Ann. “I’ve just begged a ten-shilling parachute from my parents to keep the wolf from the door. If we all direct our fees to the IAC to reduce their running costs, they will be able to give us a rebate on the moneys we’ve paid to be here.”

“Damn right,” interjected Cooper. “Let’s have a vote on the issue.”

In the end, Brightwell explained to the influential secretary of the BAAB, Jack Crump, that his teammates “refused” to participate in the BBC program. But Crump was incensed. “Refused? Refused? I’m not negotiating with a trade union. I’m secretary to the British amateur athletic board, giving instructions to the British Olympic team captain.”

The two parties were at a standstill. There were compromises. The BAAB agreed that athletes had the right to choose whether to participate in the interviews or not. But the BAAB would not budge on where the fees would go. Brightwell was overseeing a split in his own team, as some athletes chose to appear on tv, and others did not. Brightwell, his fiancé Ann Packer and two of his 4×400 teammates, John Cooper and Adrian Metcalfe chose not to.”

brightwell-revolt-off_upi_sept-26-1964

The mantle of leadership weighed heavily on Brightwell. He escaped to a quiet spot with Packer and broke down in tears.

“What in God’s name is happening? We should be focused on the Olympics, not wrangling with a fossilized governing body about the rights and wrongs of appearing on television. Why are we in this situation?”

The next morning, the newspapers were writing of the “revolt”. On top of that, Brightwell was made aware of a move within the BAAB to take away Brightwell’s captaincy. Would his place on the Olympic team follow?

Brightwell, wracked with uncertainty, went to the team and told them that he was willing to step down as captain. Lynn Davies, the eventual gold medal winner of the long jump in Tokyo, knew that if the team put it to a vote, that Brightwell would have to change his mind. Davies proposed they vote, and the vote was unanimous – the team supported Brightwell.

In the end, the team manager, Pat Sage, approached Brightwell and said that this fight had to end. “I don’t intend going to Tokyo with this fracas hanging over me.” Sage said that he would support Brightwell in his captaincy with a desire to forge team unity if Brightwell would support him as team manager. Brightwell remained captain. And the headlines finally changed for the better:

“UK Olympic Team Calls Off Revolt Against Manager”

As the UPI article of September 26, 1964 stated, “We shook hands chatted, and so far as I am concerned the argument between Sage and myself is finished. I take back nothing of my views about the official bumbledom which led to these differences of opinion. But let’s bury the hatchet and look forward to Tokyo.”