By ERWIN CHLANDA
A bitter dispute has erupted between Alice sporting identity John Bell and former world marathon record holder Robert de Castella over a project that took four young Territory Aborigines to New York, to compete in the annual marathon there.
Two of the young runners, Charlie Maher and Caleb Hart, are from Alice Springs.
The project was featured in an ABC TV documentary and is receiving $1.2m from the Federal Government to make it an ongoing initiative, according to Mr Bell.
Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon had helped to arrange the grant.
Mr Bell says Mr de Castella owes him $100,000 in wages for 20 months’ work but Mr de Castella says Mr Bell was a volunteer and had declined to accept money so as not to affect a disability pension.
Mr de Castella claims his arrangement with Mr Bell ended with the 2010 New York marathon and the government funding became available afterwards.
When subsequently applications were invited for a co-ordinator’s position, Mr Bell’s “two line application” had not stacked up against others, says Mr de Castella.
Mr Bell, who still holds the NT marathon record, says he spent two years setting up the project, using his extensive contacts and experience gained during decades of government and sports coaching work in the Territory, beginning in 1968.
All the while he had a “handshake agreement” with Mr de Castella to be paid at the rate of $60,000 a year, from public funds that were being sought for the project, and that he would get the permanent job once it was funded.
It does not make sense to forsake $60,000 a year to maintain an ongoing benefit (from a disability pension) of $18,000, says Mr Bell.
He describes Mr de Castella as a former friend, but says he should have obtained the assurances in writing.
The agency Celebrity Speakers, which represents Mr de Castella, describes him as “Australia’s greatest ever marathon runner” who in 2005 “launched a new gourmet bakery and café [and] has two bakeries and a rapidly growing wholesale business”.
Mr de Castella declines to give details about the dispute but says Mr Bell had been “destructive” and “brought discredit on the project.
“I have been forced to take out a Personal Protection Order against Mr Bell.”
The project and the documentary received extensive media coverage.
Mr Bell’s complaint will be heard by the ACT Appeals Tribunal next Monday.
Picture at top by Dan Himbrechts, Adelaide Now. Robert De Castella with (left to right) Charlie Maher, Juan Darwin and Caleb Hart. Above right: John Bell (# 42) running for Queensland at National Marathon Titles 1980. As member of a three man team he won the silver medal, beating Victoria.
NOTE NEW COMMENT BELOW BY MR BELL.
Pay dispute with Robert de Castella: Alice runner John Bell raises new issues.
By ERWIN CHLANDA