As we look towards the 2022 outdoor season, I have reflected a lot on what the summer may bring and how we all best use the resources and energy available to us to make a sustainable and impactful difference to our sport in what we hope will be a near to normal year after two years of unprecedented disruption.
My personal focus and energy as CEO of the organisation is going to be on overseeing the continued delivery of our strategic plan that was launched in April 2021 and which is referenced later in this blog. I could crystalise that focus into four key areas which I am sure would be relevant for our members as we look to strengthen the resolve of our sport and nurture its recovery from the pandemic at all levels. We know that our sport has so much to offer on many levels and to so many people whatever their ability, aspiration, or background.
Four key focus areas
- Support, and where necessary, re-invigorate track and field athletics as a source of lifelong joy and championing athletics and running as being core to a physically and mentally healthier England.
- Make sure the bedrock of the sport is sound – developing the quality and quantity of coaches, officials, and administrators, and regulating a safe and positive sport that is financially sound.
- Maintaining and raising standards and supporting innovation in road running and mass participation athletics by working in partnership at all levels.
- Working to deliver success in the Commonwealth Games for Team England, developing talent, delivering on the potential, and inspiring the next generation.
I hope that these four areas of focus resonate with you, and I truly believe that we can all play our part in delivering success at all levels of the sport as these are relevant to us all as we work together to bring our sport back post-pandemic.
I am pleased that our Board has recently approved our annual operational plan and budget for the 22-23 period and I would like to thank our members and our funding partner Sport England for their continued faith and support to ensure that we can continue to invest funds in the above areas of work and in activities that put athletes and runners at the heart of all that we do.
It has been fantastic to witness some wonderful performances from English athletes on the international stage during the early part of 2022. This bodes well as we look forward to a home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer which will be bookended by a world and European track and field championships.
Our plans are on track ahead of selecting the English team to compete in Birmingham under the leadership of Commonwealth Games gold medallist Kelly Sotherton MBE with the first selection due to take place during the early Spring when our marathon runners will be eagerly awaiting confirmation of their place on the team. The revamped Alexander Stadium looks wonderful, and the excitement is building ahead of the Games.
Our preparation camp will be in Loughborough during July and the early season outdoor performances will be monitored closely I am sure by coaches and team managers accordingly.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers from across our wonderful sport who have played an instrumental and invaluable role in not only supporting our Commonwealth Games hopefuls but in also helping to deliver athletics and running during recent times and of course during 2021 as our sport made a gradual return to near normality as restrictions were gradually removed.
I have said this many times before, but our sport is truly founded on the efforts of selfless individuals and groups of people who work tirelessly for the benefit of others. Once again, this is something we should all be immensely proud and mindful of during one of the most challenging periods in living memory. We always need more people who are prepared to give their time and expertise to benefit others in our sport if we are to reduce waiting lists in clubs and to fully recover from the impacts of the last two years.
We are focused at England Athletics on supporting our 1,450 clubs and the 3,000 running groups to grow the number of active coaches, officials, and leaders available to realise this goal and are making this a priority during 2022 as we look to realising a tangible legacy from the Birmingham Games at a local club and community level.
The journey to 2022 has well and truly begun and whilst we all hope to witness fantastic achievements on the track during Games time in August, this is truly an opportunity for all involved in the sport to use the inspiration of a home games to sustain and grow our sport at all levels.
Click here to read more information on how you can get involved – and we want to hear from you and to learn more about your plans to inspire a generation during 2022.
Reasons to be positive
There are reasons to be positive within our sport at all levels with more than 164,000 registered club athletes and runners enjoying their training and competitive action in member clubs and organisations across England.
Whilst we are still around 10% behind pre-pandemic levels the shoots of recovery are there to see and we will only continue to realise this recovery by working together at all levels to support each other with a positive and constructive approach, collaborating, embracing change and innovation given the changing environment around us.
More than 2,200 road races have returned to our streets during 2021 and, as I type, we are at the rear of a busy cross-country and indoor season and plans are afoot for an action packed domestic outdoor season, but we cannot rest on our laurels. We know that the number of people taking part in track and field training and competition in our sport continues to be a challenge and the pandemic has only served to extenuate this situation with a third less people competing in 2021 than in 2019.
These are collective challenges that we must work together on addressing. We all have a responsibility at all levels of the sport to work towards tackling these challenges.
It has also been pleasing to see much needed investments made into our track and field facility stock across England with local authorities and leisure contractors recognising how important our sport is to the communities that our volunteer clubs provide for. Much of this work has been led by volunteers in member clubs and/or working on behalf of competition organisations at a local, county, area, or national level.
We passionately believe that athletics and running provides the power to unite and inspire people, to benefit mental health, and to avert some of the direct risks associated with the pandemic, demonstrated by many of the wonderful achievements delivered at various levels of the sport during the last year.
We need to work collaboratively to continually ensure that our services, at all levels of the sport, meet the needs of participants and volunteers in what is a different world to the one that we realised pre-pandemic. Embracing the digital age and adapting our activities accordingly to meet the needs of those involved, realising that leisure, working, and family time is pressurised in modern society.
We are prioritising these areas in our own strategic plan published in Spring 2021 in recognition of these challenges and I would think that as clubs, this focus is also reflected in local development plans and activities.
As competition and event providers we all need to adapt, to take on board feedback from our participants and evolve accordingly in what is a competitive environment, following the example set by numerous club, commercial and charitable competition providers that have innovated during the last couple of years, embracing technology and creating a fantastic buzz where the athletes, runners, officials, and spectators are truly at the heart of the experience.
As National Governing Bodies, we can help by showcasing best practice, investing in specific events, ensuring that our own competitions nationally reflect this intent, but it is a truly shared responsibility and accountability at all levels of the sport to make this happen. Something that worked five, 10, 15, 20 years ago or longer will not necessarily work now, and we need to recognise this and adapt accordingly and collaborate to make this happen.
In closing, I wish you all the very best of success as we approach the Spring and outdoor track and field season and thank you once again for all that you do whatever your involvement in our great sport.