Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Association of British Athletic Clubs


  The fundamental failure in athletics to increase participation and improve or even maintain standards throughout the sport over the past eight years must be laid squarely at the door of the current administration, UK Athletics and their stakeholders, Sport England and UK Sport.

  UKA adopted a policy where lottery funding is exclusively devoted to established World Class Potential and Potential Olympic medallists and as a consequence crucial financial support for the clubs to enable them to best develop grass roots potential was and is ignored.

  Since 1997, following the bankruptcy of the British Athletics Federation, a new administrative body, UK Athletics was set up and funded by Sport England. Senior personnel were appointed by Sport England tasked to deliver a more successful British Athletics with international championship medal targets and world standards to be improved across the board. But after eight years and more than £45 million pounds of public money largely wasted on a growing bureaucratic athletics administration, whose mantra appears to have been "think up a title and we'll appoint somebody" and referred to by many as being ineffective, autocratic, uncommunicative and out of touch. Crucially, none of their stated targets (which were the basis for their public funding) have been achieved. As a consequence our sport is spiralling into terminal decline:

    —  The peak age for participation in athletics as measured by club membership throughout the country is 12-13. Thereafter each year it dramatically declines. By age 20 only 10% of the peak level remains. It continues to decline until 35 where it begins to rise again through to 45 to match the 20 year age group. This is due to veteran athletics being popular where the vast majority take part in road races. (middle age crisis!)

    —  Standards for all age groups and in all events have dramatically declined over the last 20-30 years. Schools national championships and club county championships are shadows of their former days. Participation levels are at their lowest ever. In some events in many counties, merely turning up guarantees a medal!

    —  Winning performances in almost every event at County, Area and Territorial championships and even in some cases the national championships (incorporating international championships and Games trials) would not qualify for a final between 1972-85.

    —  The London Marathon and Great North Runs have evolved into essentially social fun events and their growth cannot be attributed to serious runners. (those who train and race regularly throughout the year.) The majority age group by far is 35-45 years old and in each year over the last twenty the standard of performance has fallen, eg, in 1985 in the London marathon over 100 British runners were faster than 2 hours 20 minutes. Last year only 10 managed to beat that time and the previous year the first Briton to finish was a woman. 20 years ago the first British women was behind over 200 British men.

    Verified in detail at

  The clubs, who are the sport and provide and deliver each new generation of international athletes through a mainly unpaid, voluntary body of coaches and officials to provide the necessary competition structure and infrastructure for the sport, have been virtually and deliberately ignored. UKA decided from the beginning they did not need to involve the clubs over policy, strategy or with funding to help deliver the sport. They decided they alone could identify and develop the talent that came through the clubs and set about creating professional posts within their own organisation to do so. Unfortunately, qualification, expertise and experience appeared to be less important than face fitting.

  UKA's strategies have produced nothing new of any significance at world level. There has been no inclusive and comprehensive development strategy in linking schools to clubs, identifying talent and creating the pathway from foundation to excellence and international standards. Ten Regional Development Co-ordinators were appointed to develop links (at an overall cost of £700.000 per year) but their unquantified success only scratches the surface of a nation teaming with latent potential international talent.


  Lottery funding including the World Class Potential plan did not return value for money. Performance Centres were set up, Regional Performance Managers, Technical Directors and a host of other support staff were engaged to deliver world class athletics and to build for the future but the results spoke for themselves. Our last two Olympic Games and four World Championships during UKA's tenure fell far short of expectations and even most of our previous achievements at global events. We failed to send full teams because most of our lottery funded athletes did not achieve the qualifying standards. Over 50% of those funded did not qualify for Athens. Our UKA lauded juniors came away from their world track & field championships for the first time without a single medal. The recent World Cross Country Championships were the worse we have ever recorded and across six championship races including the two junior events our highest position was from a junior girl in 20th place. At the recent and prestigious European Challenge 10,000 metres, Britain had no representative either male or female. The UKA Endurance Director is quoted as saying that there is no point in trying to compete with Africans at distances above 1,500 metres!

  Our most famous and successful athletes of recent times are or were almost all in their early to mid thirties and were world class before the advent of UKA.


  Some school age schemes for "fun" athletics were in place or were newly initiated, some of which were in themselves successful and popular but no progressive and regular competition structure was available to maintain enthusiasm and purpose and no attempt was made to help support the real breeding ground for developing talent, ie, the clubs.

    —  Active Sports—not readily linked to Sport England's other initiatives: Active Community or Active School. No delivery mechanism. No coherent strategy.

    —  Star Track—a single week of athletics experience in school holidays usually run by local authorities. Little or no club expertise involved. Little or no follow-up, no competition structure no planned onward link.

    —  Sports Hall Athletics—Highly successful and popular especially for 11-13 age children but again little or no direct link to suitable clubs.

    —  Shine Awards—an initiative similar to the previously long established 5 star awards. Good in content but complex and required skills from teachers to produce—no development link and lost the AAA's £700,000 (as shown in the minutes of the 2004 AGM) when it was promised by UKA that it would create revenue of £100,000 per year to go back in to club coaching development. What was fundamentally overlooked was the fact that previously the schools created revenue for themselves with the 5 star awards but with Shine it did not. No incentive for schools, interest has declined.

    —  Some of the Policy Support team, drawn mainly from voluntary athletics coaches and invited to help formulate and modify initiatives for developing the sport at grass roots, reported they felt that UKA did not sufficiently listen to them. "They have their agenda and don't really want to change anything" said one disillusioned top level coach.

  Unless there are clear, positive and progressive links from what is offered in schools and local communities through to athletics clubs, there is no development to ensure that young potential is guided, motivated and supported to stay in the sport and achieve their ultimate potential, possibly culminating in an Olympic Games.

  All of the above "stand alone" initiatives are worthwhile and valid as an athletics experience (mostly one off) but unless they are part of an overall strategic plan they cannot provide the necessary steps along the pathway to success and the achievement of full potential. That pathway generally requires:

    1.  Clubs that are appropriately equipped and have sufficient qualified coaches.

    2.  Guidance at suitable training venues through paid qualified coaches/teachers in all events at all levels.

    3.  An appropriate competition structure also linked to progressive levels: Without regular structured competition there is little incentive for children and particularly adolescents to take up and remain in the sport.

    4.  Significant (career structure) funding going directly to clubs on an individual performance basis to incentivise athletes and coaches.

    5.  Substantially increased funding for the National Young Athletes League (a long proven competition structure for our future potential Olympic medallists which has included, Olympic Champions, Seb Coe, Daly Thompson and silver medallist, Peter Elliott) nb: It is incredible that the one proven organisation for the development of talent in "proper athletics" receives only £80,000 per year from UKA.—less than either the CEO or deputy CEO's salary. Ten times that amount could change the face of British athletics for the future.

    6.  A nation-wide individual competition structure of six to eight times per season for each (graded) event and all age groups where everyone can compete against the best of the rest, in addition to the existing leagues, County, Area and National championships which in themselves would be revitalised.


  Athletics is a complex multifaceted sport made up of different, hugely varying, disciplines. Its very nature appeals to a wide range of talent and requires a wide range of specialist coaches to deliver it across all age groups and gender. It is, of course, desirable and highly worthwhile to have initiatives for the young and aspiring internationals who choose to participate but it requires a greater depth of direct funding for clubs and schools to succeed and far less costly, undemocratic and bureaucratic administrations draining available funding from where it could be best used.

  It is because of a UKA's failure to deliver, that the sport has determined to form the Association of British Athletics Clubs (ABAC) to gather together its expertise and by its voice help formulate the proper and better use of any future public funding.

5 April 2005

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 19 May 2005