National Council - Chair's Blog - October 2016

National Council - Chair's Blog - October 2016

The next two weekends will see some heavy athletics action in our household. This weekend it’s off to the National Road Relays at Sutton Park and the following weekend England Athletics has a big day with its AGM, Whole Council Conference and Hall of Fame on Saturday 15th.

The Road Relays follow the area championships held a week back and should be a big day with the age groups and seniors being held on the same day. I attended the recent Southern Relays held for the first time at Bedford Aerodrome. The competition itself was keenly contested and congratulations to everyone who raced however they did. The event staging showed that new venues can present problems, which SEAA Competitions Ltd will hopefully iron out if the venue is used again. It would be useful for all concerned in my opinion if these were explained so that supporters of the sport understand the reasons behind some of the glitches. There were fewer officials/marshals than intended and those who did attend put in a big shift.

A couple of matters from this meeting were worth attention. The event organisers again in my view need to invest in some kit to make the start/finish area – which is a focus of the competition – look more fitting for what is a big event. I have seen comments that athletes did not feel that it was a “special” event. Communication equipment was also not very evident.

The other observation is that in my opinion, in the case of the age group athletes, they need to be treated both more sympathetically and, indeed, as adults in the marshalling areas. We get very tied up in the logistics of staging events. But these events are the sport’s showcase to participants and maybe even spectators. They are our “customers” not some annoying people who have to be shuffled around.

As the AGM approaches I am drawing to the end of 12 years’ involvement with England Athletics, mainly through the London Council but latterly the National Council and the Board. During most of that time I have been surprised at how little people in the grassroots of the sport want to be involved in its running. Most power is political and it has been really easy to get to the core of decision making in England and indeed UKA just by being willing to stand and attend a few meetings.

The sport has not really moved forward to re-generate itself at local level over the last 10 years even though some progress has been made latterly. The core issue throughout has been the split in responsibilities in virtually every area of the sport between UKA, which has responsibility for setting strategies that affect us all, and England which is in theory responsible for delivering those strategies. This split means that no-one is directly accountable when things go wrong – not a good model.

I am not going to go on about how impossible this situation has made getting even common-sense things done. But my most productive days were pre Olympics/Paralympics in London when the London Council worked directly with the Mayor and the GLA setting our own agenda and achieving much success with engaging mainly young athletes to participate beyond the Games. I personally felt very motivated because what I was doing made a difference in London where I live and we could see direct results from our actions.

But largely this all happened because we decided to do something and were able to do it with the support of the local EA team led by Bob Smith. Our aims did not cut across any vested interests elsewhere in either England or UKA and there was independent funding available which did not have to be spread across the rest of the country.

Obviously that model is very local and not likely to be relevant away from a major games-hosting city. But I have recently felt that two of the most active areas for athletic development have been where there are very motivated local leaders – John Skevington in Leicester and John Dennis in Yorkshire. I also see very strong activity in Hertfordshire led by the local network and the strong team at Stevenage and North Herts AC.

I am sure there are other examples of local activity driven by local people. My point is that there is great strength in our sport and if some of that could be harnessed in our formal structures the sport should benefit.

This coming Spring there will be a round of elections for Regional Councils. The Council system as a whole has been working pretty well as a route for expressing the sport’s views in national level decision taking. But it does not capture the vibrancy of the sport and its volunteers currently in my view. Partly that is because our systems do not allow Regional opinions to be heard fully and we are working on that.

But equally the Councils need new people with ideas to come forward. As a 60 year-old white middle class male I feel that I am over-represented in the Council system. I think that the time has come for a generational change – even to the 30-40 year olds, or hopefully to younger, possibly even active, athletes. People should not be put off by not having years of experience. What is needed is fresh ideas and the drive to make sure they get implemented. If you feel you want to shake things up become a Councillor.

If you have made it this far you may be interested to know that UKA has set up a Domestic Strategy Group to apply more emphasis to domestic matters under the leadership of former Scottish CEO Nigel Holl. England is close to finalising its Strategy for the next 6 years. How it eventually works out will depend on agreement of funding over the next 4 years with Sport England. Here outline guidance on funding levels will probably be received by the end of October.

At the Whole Council Conference following the AGM we will (hopefully) be launching the new web pages for Council Portfolio holders. Portfolios are areas of responsibility for Councillors in their region. The first three – clubs, coaching and officials – are planned to go live with this launch. The main idea is to open up a more regular communication path for people involved in those areas with the National Council and through them the England Board/management. It sounds basic but this has proven to be a difficult task.

In the same way as the Southern Relays experienced teething problems with a new venue I am confident that something will go wrong here as well. I would ask you bear with us because if we can get this working properly it will greatly enhance the strength of your views in decision-taking,

Best wishes to all involved at the forthcoming National Road Relays. I will be there and please feel free to come and talk to me.

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