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
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
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 www.britishathletics.info
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
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
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 Sportsnot readily
linked to Sport England's other initiatives: Active Community
or Active School. No delivery mechanism. No coherent strategy.
Star Tracka 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 AthleticsHighly
successful and popular especially for 11-13 age children but again
little or no direct link to suitable clubs.
Shine Awardsan initiative
similar to the previously long established 5 star awards. Good
in content but complex and required skills from teachers to produceno
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
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
5 April 2005