National Council - Chair's Blog - April 2015
The annual series of England Athletics Consultations is upon us. This gives representatives of affiliated clubs and registered athletes the chance to question EA and local Council members and to be updated on developments that affect them. These events have come about following club input after rises in affiliation fees were proposed in 2012. The existence of the events can be seen as a result of a democratic process and the membership making its views heard.
But how much democracy do we actually have? It may be that members are not that interested in this question given other pressing matters – such as proposals to change age groups and the need to assist the YDL to make the League better tailored to its members’ requirements. But, looking back at when I first stood to be a Regional Councillor in 2007 when EA was initially established, when I became the London Chair in 2008 and then the National Chair in 2013, I would say that the desire to have the views of clubs and their members heard and acted upon was my personal number one priority. That is what I call democracy.
To answer my own question, it remains the case that despite improved democratic processes within England, the ability of members to drive policies that affect them is only partial. This is largely because of the way in which the sport is governed and the sharing of responsibilities between UKA (British Athletics) and EA.
UKA determines strategy across the sport as a whole. This is principally achieved through oversight of the Rules of Competition, but also by determining the content of coach and officials education and managing domestic competition schedules through the competition permitting system and its recently initiated Competition Strategy Group.
This arrangement, in my opinion, pre-dates the current set-up where UKA’s expertise is largely in managing and promoting the top end of the sport. Historically it had direct contact with a far larger part of the sport stretching into the grass roots. At last week’s London Consultation many of the questions covered areas of the sport where clubs reasonably enough felt that England Athletics has direct responsibility for strategy but actually it does not. Clearly UKA’s role in grass roots athletics is not well understood.
Because most aspects of these areas cover England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland one might argue that a UK wide body is best positioned to undertake these functions on behalf of all.
However, the bodies involved in making the decisions at UKA on behalf of the sport have a different democratic process to that which we are starting to see now quite widely at EA and there is therefore a different level of accountability. For example, the UKA Board receives recommendations from the CEO Forum (comprising the CEOs of UKA and the four Home Countries) and then set strategies. Apart from the President, the UKA Board are all executives or appointees, so there is currently very little direct representation for the sport at strategy-setting level.
Clearly there needs to be some method that allows decisions to be taken in an effective way and it cannot be expected that members/clubs are directly consulted on all decisions. But where the current system falls down in my view is that it does not balance the needs/views of the executive management with those of the affiliated members and the clubs.
Within England we have a regional and national Council system where members are elected every two years. The Council has two of 10 Board seats. There are two further directly elected (by the clubs) Board members. Personally, I think that EA has started on the journey towards a well developed system to allow members’ views to be taken into account when determining strategy and making important decisions.
The UK Members Council (UKMC) is a body within the UKA set-up representing the interests of many sections of the sport. Again, however, it has more appointed members than elected ones.
In order for the sport to move forward in a collaborative way we need to see a continuation of the democratisation process in the governance of both EA and UKA, not least with the UKMC, in order to ensure that the needs and wishes of our member clubs and registered athletes are heard and taken into account at the heart of the strategy-setting process. As the EA consultative process gets under way, now is the perfect opportunity to think about this and for you to make your opinions on these matters heard.
This blog reflects the personal views of Tony Shiret, Chair of the National Council.
For details of your regional consultation event, go to www.englandathletics.org/consultation.