Athletes say they were manhandled by security at event

Police and private security were criticised yesterday for being over-zealous at the weekend's Great Edinburgh International Cross Country.

There was anger and frustration that athletes and visitors were manhandled and physically abused at the Holyrood athletics spectacular, held on Saturday.

The event was a trial for the World Cross-country Championships to be held there on March 30. Representatives of the world athletics body and EventScotland, who have sponsored the fixture for several years to encourage sport tourism, were present.

However, a complaint has now been made about the conduct of police and private security.

Jos Hermens, Dutch manager of the winners of both men's and women's races, said: "This was quite unnecessary. These guys are crazy. The athletes were in more danger from security than they were from the crowd of fans following the race."

Paul Bush, chief executive of EventScotland, was unhappy. "We have to learn from this and ensure there is no repetition at the Worldcross this year, " he said.

Hundreds of Eritrean and Ethiopian visitors flocked to the course from all over Britain to see the rematch between the current and former world champions, Zersenay Tadesse and Kenenisa Bekele. Eritrean Tadesse had been harmlessly chaired shoulder high by supporters last year. However, on Saturday the pair were loaded into a golf buggy and security were free with their hands in pushing f lag-waving, chanting spectators away from the cart.

More than 160 Eritreans travelled from Glasgow alone, and bus loads from London, Manchester, and Newcastle, plus almost as many from Britain's Ethiopian community. They were noisy but wellbehaved and offended that their tribal chanting, dancing, and support, had been misconstrued. "We have said nothing bad at all, " said one indignant Eritrean.

Mr Hermens confirmed he had complained about the conduct of police and private security after having seen Gelete Burka, the diminutive winner of the women's race, carried on the run in a headlock for some 120 metres by security men.

As the two leading male runners jogged to the start, a group of flag-waving Eritreans trotting alongside were vigorously handed off, several times, by police.

Scottish internationalist Andy Caine, in charge of the elite field for the event organisers, Nova, said yesterday: "There's no bad feeling at all from the athletes. There had been requests for tighter security on the course, in case spectators got on and maybe a competitor broke a leg."

A police spokesman said any specific complaint should go to the chief constable: "It will be investigated, and any lessons learned."