ATHLETICS may be granted a stay of execution by the Hong Kong Sports Institute if a new development structure is adopted. Last month, Institute director Dr Dennis Whitby admitted that athletics, which has been part of the Institute for the last three years, could be kicked out because of differences with the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA). However, with a little more than two months before a new programme for all scholarship sports is implemented, Whitby sees new hope. 'We have come to an agreement which could keep athletics at the Institute at least until the Asian Championships in September,' he said. 'I have to take it to the Institute chairman [Major General Guy Watkins] and there must also be final approval from the sponsors. 'But I think there is definitely a chance for athletics.' The plan would call for the Institute director, a former athletics coach in Hong Kong, China and the United States, to play a significantly bigger role in the programme. Sponsors Watson's Water, who have pumped HK$3 million into the programme, are currently considering the proposal, while the HKAAA are believed to have given initial approval. HKAAA chairman William Ko was not available for comment yesterday. A major sticking point between the Institute and the HKAAA has been coaching arrangements. The Institute's current head athletics coach, Garry Brown, has had a torrid relationship with the HKAAA, believing the association have not given him full co-operation. Brown was ignored by the governing body for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games last year and intends to return to Australia when his contract expires in April. Hong Kong's next major goal in international athletics is the Asian Championships in Jakarta in September. Whitby said if a deal could be reached to support athletics up to the championships, he would be willing to extend the contract if results were favourable. He added that there has been no moves as yet to find a replacement for Brown. He said athletics and gymnastics are the only sports which face an uncertain future at the Institute, where athletes are able to make use of excellent facilities and coaching at the Sha Tin complex, plus receive financial aid. 'We have good reason to get rid of sports like track and field and gymnastics, but at the same time, there is every reason to keep them,' Whitby said. 'It is easy to get rid of them, but if they are showing signs of life, we should give them a chance.' Hong Kong's gymnasts were a major disappointment at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games last year when the territory failed to qualify for any of the finals. Whitby and his predecessor, Paul Brettell, both felt that the sport faced a bleak future at the Institute, especially following the retirement of Jim Wilson, the head coach for more than 10 years. But Whitby is now willing to give the Hong Kong Amateur Gymnastics Association one more chance to preserve their status. 'When Jim left last year, we gave them three months to come up with something and they seemed to have responded,' he said. 'Gymnastics were really on the deathbed. 'But I think we may give them some short-term goals to work with.' The Institute is expected to announce its line-up of sports to receive support within the next few weeks. Depending on their scope for success and infrastructure of their respective associations, the sports will be awarded various levels of support. The elite sports will be signed on up to the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok while others will be given one, two or three-year assurances. There will also be an option for extension depending on results in international competition.