National Council - Chair's Blog - July 2016
Amazing to think that we are now already into the wind-down of the track season and looking forward hopefully to a successful Olympics in Rio. As supporters of British Athletics’ stance on clean athletics it is very disappointing that the IOC did not support a tougher stance on Russia. But at least the IAAF has made the correct decision. This is important from a grass roots point of view as well as in terms of protecting the integrity of competition at the highest level. Parents need to know they can trust their children into the care of a sport which maintains proper standards.
England Athletics has been preparing itself for the next four-year funding cycle with Sport England. Without wishing to burden readers with the process involved, suffice to say that this will be in stages and follows guidelines for different themes set out by Sport England already. The precise details of how to apply have not been relayed at the time of writing. But EA has prepared itself by carrying out a number of reviews within an overall strategy framework. This work is coming together and has all been reviewed by the Board and its sub-committees recently. The process is much different from four years ago and has been widened out so that a lot of the volunteers filling advisory roles have been included in preparing the reviews which is clearly a better way of doing things. Having said this, in my view England Athletics learns through its mistakes as we go along and there will therefore be areas of disagreement with the end results.
One area highlighted by the process has been consultation and how it links in with strategy formulation. EA is quite a consultative body and the results of the 2016 consultation round are being worked into the strategy. But there are conceptual issues arising. The consultations generally focus on individuals’ perceptions of how they are personally affected by the delivery of the sport in their case. But strategies need also to take account of the way in which the sport is delivered to allow the individual to experience it in the way they want. As the Clubs’ representative on the UK Members Council and the Chair of the England National Council which represents all the English member clubs and affiliated individuals, I am not sure that either the people who take part in the consultations or those formulating the new strategy have got this balance right.
Elsewhere it was disappointing to see blocks of seats not used at the recent Anniversary Games. These could be used to reward volunteers and other groups – like English Schools winners and their families. I requested this at the recent UK Members Council and was told that it was too hard to organise. Hopefully British Athletics will take a more progressive view in future.
EA has been reviewing its Schools strategy as part of the overall review. This work is interesting because it raises questions about how involved we should try to be. Every reader probably has a view on the state of athletics in schools. But realistically how can we achieve more impact in schools and move athletics up the ladder in terms of how schools prioritise it?
When you think of it in those terms it is obvious that some things never change but some other things have to. The areas that can be improved but where the need is still the same are providing support/knowledge to PE teachers in schools, encouraging more of them to get a deeper knowledge of our sport in their training and areas like awards and club/school links. In my view we should also think how to encourage the sport in schools where it is less accessible. To do all of this we need to have a better idea of actual levels of activity than we currently have. These needs have been the same since I was at school and we need to improve our performance as a sport.
Looking at the things that have to change we need to consider whether to assist schools trying to provide a broader involvement in physical activity through more recreational running activities. Currently this is beginning to be provided by various commercial providers. But we have great expertise in this area built on our collaboration with Sport England over the past six years. This has contributed to the spectacular rise in recreational running in England over the period. What is interesting is that there are examples of schools which are active in more general running are also strong in traditional track & field as well. Also if we look at EA’s membership, approximately 50% of our affiliated members are over 30 years old and probably not that interested in a spot of pole vault on a Tuesday night. There is clearly an appetite for less competition based running generally and almost certainly among school children. So do we get involved? From a parent’s point of view having the assurance of our name behind what their children do in school is a plus.
So the various reviews going on are throwing off some interesting debates. What is also interesting is how we manage the Sport England funding process which is being performed in a number of cycles rather than all at once. We have some excellent delivery capability because of the expertise of our volunteers and staff. But we can only deploy this in scale if we use other partners.
At the end of all of the strategy debate however some things remain the same. We need to find a way of delivering more coaches, officials and other volunteers to ensure we have the capacity to continue to deliver the sport in its various forms over the longer term. EA and British Athletics have not found a way to do this over the first 10 years of England as a body in my opinion.
We also need to modernise the sport to make it attractive to competitors/participants with many other alternatives available to them. This has started to be looked at as well. But as an old person (60) myself I can see that we need to be looking at this through the eyes of our customers rather than to make the task easier for ourselves.
So overall interesting times. The sport needs strong leadership to move it forward after a period of some progress but not enough.
In passing I had contrasting experiences at two recent meetings I attended. The YDL meeting at Windsor had some excellent performances and I thought I would duck out on the first four hours of the meeting so that I could come away with an overall enjoyable but short (ish) experience. One parent there confided in me that she felt the meeting had been going on for “quite a long time”. Spot on – looking forward to the YDL proposals on reducing the time that their athletes spend at competitions. The other one was a Southern Athletics League (Div3?) meeting at Watford. This was exactly the opposite with very few performances I can remember but an excellent afternoon courtesy of the hilarious chat between Newham’s East Enders and the posh-boys/girls of Serpentine (who incidentally wiped the floor with everyone there). I felt sorry for the starter having to heave steeplechase barriers on/off the track, but it was a very collaborative effort all round and showed what a positive sport we spend our time on even at the modest end of the performance spectrum.