Hello and I hope that you are all keeping safe and well during this current time. I wanted to say a few words as we move towards the end of 2020, a year like none other and certainly one that we will remember as being hugely worrying, disruptive and uncertain in so many ways. As we all adjust to the new COVID-19 regional tier restrictions following the end of the current national lockdown in England on 2 December, we hope as many of you as possible will be able to return to some form of organised club or group activity and adapted competitions on and off the track. The future does seem more promising based on the latest UK Government news around a vaccine. Let us all hope that by the spring we will have returned to something that we would all recognise as being more like “normal”.
That said, there remain some challenges ahead in the coming few months and we must remain vigilant and adhere to the guidance in place as we work collaboratively and constructively at all levels of the sport to steer this ship through the coming period. The indoor, cross country and road season will continue to face disruption as facility owners grapple with similar considerations and challenges as we do and we need to work sensibly, understandably and considerately in managing these negotiations as we look to organise events for our athletes.
On behalf of everyone at England Athletics, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank those individuals and organisations who have responded positively and proactively during 2020 in meeting head on the challenges facing us all. This includes the volunteers across the land for all that they have done during the summer and autumn months in managing our sport through this period. With around 300 track and field competitions, 35,000 athlete performances, 300 road races, and 60,000 runner performances, it is clear that this has been no normal season but we have, together, managed to find a way of providing some form of adapted competition. This, in addition to the numerous virtual challenges and competitions on offer coordinated by clubs and competition providers, has meant we have been able to arguably provide more activity than many other sports. This is something I think we should all be proud of.
I am sure we have learnt a lot that will stick with us as we look towards 2021. These learnings will hopefully mean we can integrate these positives into the competition programmes when “normality” resumes. As the saying goes if we keep doing things as we have always done them, then why should we expect the results to be any different? I feel that we all have a responsibility in this respect as providers of experiences for athletes of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. As we know societal habits continue to shift and people have a lot of choice for their leisure time and the opportunities available to someone are rich and plentiful. We need to continue to adapt to these changes if we are to retain participants and to grow our sport. It is perhaps not uncommon during times of challenge for people to criticise, find fault and reasons not to change and to try new approaches but what we have seen is a large majority of people rolling their sleeves up and getting stuck in to make that positive difference.
I would also like to thank our volunteer led regional councils for doing such a great job in the summer and autumn months in managing the competition licensing process for our sport in England. This was a fundamental aspect in bringing back organised and safe competitions and without their efforts this would have been much more difficult. I would also like to thank our councils for organising and hosting our recent round of virtual regional award celebrations online. These have been excellent events with many hundreds of views online as we celebrate the fantastic work of our tireless volunteers who make our sport what it is.
Regional council elections
In early December we will be launching our 2021 regional council elections across the nine England Athletics regions. These elections take place every two years, and we encourage those who would like to serve on our volunteer councils to consider this carefully. Councils play a positive, constructive and engaged role as an integral part of the England Athletics governance and consultative structure. They represent the views and interests of our member clubs whilst working collaboratively with the England Athletics staff and Board to drive our sport forward positively in areas such as regional awards, competition licensing and in shaping strategy. Ensuring that our council structure represents what is a broad and diverse sport is fundamentally important so we will be looking for people of all backgrounds and disciplines but also those with significant skills and knowledge from within and outside of the sport as athletes, runners, coaches, officials and leaders to come forward and help to build a brighter future.
Our online resources
I should also take this opportunity to remind people that our online athletics and running @home and safely distanced resources continue to be available for people to access and our education and training course offering is now fully operational via athletics hub. Our investment in the improvement of our digital capabilities afforded us the opportunity when COVID-19 struck to transfer a number of the activities that we would ordinarily have delivered face to face, online, through this virtual offering with examples being our recent Speed and Power Conference and our Youth Development and Throws webinars with keynote speakers of worldwide renown. We hope that you continue to enjoy the array of conferences, webinars, forums, and tools online. This will be a feature of how we continue to work looking forward. We are also due to shortly announce the details of our new Club Support Fund. We announced this intent in the early Autumn, and we will be inviting clubs to submit applications for this fund shortly. We hope that it is helpful to many of those clubs and organisations whose efforts have been invaluable during this year but whose struggles have been real and a threat to their long-term sustainability. We hope to make the first awards from this fund in the new year.
So, looking beyond 2020 we will be communicating our intent regards the indoor season very soon and will look to work closely with our regional councils in this respect and indeed with regards to the coordination of licensing into 2021. We will continue to work collaboratively and constructively with our partners UK Athletics and the other Home Country Athletics Federations and represent the interests of our athletes and member clubs. It is an important partnership and one that we should do all we can to make work for the benefit of our sport through to 2032. I am also mindful that in 2021 (an Olympic and Paralympic year) we will be approaching the “one year to go” mark with respect to the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. This is something we are excited by in terms of the opportunity this provides us as a sport around both performance and inspiration. We will also publish a new strategy reflective of England Athletics respective roles and responsibilities in early 2021 and this will inform how we work and deliver our part in helping the sport to realise the goals outlined in the recently published UK wide strategy “Athletics Unified”.
In closing, I’d like to thank the mental health champions in clubs and running groups across the land whose work has been fundamentally important during this period. I know from first-hand experience the impact that the uncertainty and fear over recent months has had on both physical and mental health. We are all human and have shared many of the same concerns, anxieties and stresses during 2020. Those that have played their part in working constructively and positively during this period to support one another across the athletics family and to bring our sport back should be proud of their efforts.
There is much to look forward to in 2021, in the meantime as the saying goes, in a world where you can be anything you want, be kind.
Stay safe, take care and thank you.