By Tony Ward - 17 March 2009

I was deeply saddened to read of the death of John Rodda (pictured), who wrote on athletics for the Guardian between 1960 and 1995. John was the doyen and most respected of athletics writers. His contacts with the sport were at the very highest level as those of us, on the other side of the fence as it were, all too frequently discovered.

I had known John for many years but we came into closer and more frequent contact during my decade- long tenure as Media spokesman for the sport. Those were the halcyon days of the 80s and early 90s when British athletes ruled Europe and in some events the world. John was an exceptional writer; his work was incisive and imbued with tremendous knowledge.


His finest journalistic moment came in 1968 and had nothing to do with athletics. He was in Mexico City for the Olympics when hundreds of student demonstrators were gunned down just before the Games opened. John was the only Guardian correspondent in Mexico and his dispatches from the capital showed that he would have been a top journalist no matter what the field.

He wrote a history of the Olympics with the IOC President, Lord Killanin; he served on the IAAF Press Commission for many years; he covered ten Olympic Games for his paper; he helped Seb Coe make a report to the IOC; he assisted Andy Norman make a presentation to an IAAF Congress that changed the face of international athletics; he knew Olympic politics inside out. John was not only a reporter on athletics but a lover of the sport as well.

His other sporting love was boxing, which he also covered for his paper, writing on some of the great title fights of the second half of the 20th century.

My best memory of John is of the European Championships in Helsinki in 1994. I was walking through the grounds of the Athlete’s Village when my mobile rang. A familiar voice greeted me and then said: “Can you confirm that a British athlete has tested positive?” I couldn’t so I said that I would get back to him. I turned heel and went back to the restaurant where team manager Verona Elder and team doctor Malcolm Brown were in very close conference. They stopped talking. “I know,” I said, “what you’ve been talking about.” It was the celebrated case of Solomon Wariso and a supplement called Up Your Gas and John had obtained yet another scoop.

John’s retirement lunch was held at the celebrated Ivy Restaurant in London. One of the gifts presented to him was a photograph of him sitting next to the then IAAF President, Primo Nebiolo, who was obviously desperately trying to talk himself out of a probing question. The expression, peering over his reading glasses, on John’s face was wonderfully sceptical. He loved athletes but was rightly suspicious of most administrators.

When you think of John it is of a remembrance of times past, of an era when athletics was always in the news. Those days are gone but we will long remember him as, in the very best sense, a fine gentleman.


Tony Ward was the spokesman for British Athletics from 1986 to 1996. He is the author of Modern Distance Running (1964), Linford Christie (1989) and  Athletics: The Golden Decade (1991), which shortlisted for Sportsbook of the Year. He continues to write on the sport at



I was lucky enough to follow John as the athletics correspondent
of The Guardian and it quickly became apparent to me of the high
esteem he was held in around the world, both in Olympic and
athletics circles. He was a hard act to follow me.

One of my fondest memories was of how I was once got involved in
a discussion at a press conference with Primo Nebiolo, the
president of the IAAF, about two years after taking over from
John. At one point he turned to Istvan Gyulai, then the secretary
of the organisation and asked him what newspaper I wrote for.

"The Guardian" Istvan whispered to him.

"Ooohhh. A young Mr Rodda."

John was a great journalist and an even greater man.
By Duncan Mackay, Editor insidethegames

19 March 2009 at 12:51pm