As the Chair of the England Athletics Board, I wanted to share my perspective on the how the organisation is working to support the sport and all those in it, in our mission to inspire athletes of all backgrounds and abilities to reach their full potential and build a lifelong love for the sport.
Athletics and running are absolutely core to the physical and mental health of the UK.
Whether it’s competing, participating, spectating, volunteering, or supporting in any other way, this sport is a source of joy, achievement, understanding, and memories for so many.
The opportunity and need to build on the best of this is enormous:
- Just under one in four 11 year olds in England is obese.
- One in seven 11-16 year olds has a mental health condition.
- We have an epidemic of loneliness at all ages.
We increase mobility, access and opportunity, grow confidence and mutual understanding, reduce discrimination and increase inclusion. Athletics and running already plays a major part in grappling with these challenges but together we believe we can do even more.
There is plenty to celebrate …but cost pressures are challenging for all of us.
This is a sport in which we won more medals in 2022 than the previous five Commonwealth Games. A sport which helped bring out the brilliance of Birmingham in last year’s sunshine…and yet there is uncertainty about who will host the next Commonwealth Games to inspire future generations.
A sport in which our senior and junior English athletes have broken many records on the track and in the field at home and abroad this year at competitions such as the Commonwealth Youth Games and European Age Group Championships World Championships and World Para Athletics Championships…and yet a sport where financially there are question marks about how many representative teams we may be able to sustain as a sport at international level in the future due to rising costs.
A sport that is amongst the most diverse and open, welcoming people on the track, on the field, on roads and on trails, bringing joy to all from under 8’s to over 80’s. Participation in running is central to many people’s lives with around 6M taking part regularly. We have also seen membership of England Athletics start to grow again since the pandemic. Membership numbers are up to 170,000 with an increase seen in every region of England.
Yet our sport is still trying to identify a sustainable solution that keeps it safe for everyone at all levels. UK Athletics have seen safeguarding costs increase by about £250 k per year and rising cost of living generally is putting pressure on coaches, officials, clubs, facilities and travel costs throughout the sport. These cost pressures naturally have most impact on those least able to afford them.
Two crucial elements as we tackle the cost challenges….
Firstly, we need to develop a sustainable solution that addresses rising costs and finds new ways to support competition and involvement and make life easier for coaches, officials, clubs, athletes and volunteers. Secondly, we need to make sure that our solutions preserve the accessibility and low costs that keep our sport open for all within our society.
The solutions that we develop will also seek to support UK Athletics as they strive to develop elite athletics despite the commercial challenges that they have faced. Role models at the peak of our sport inspire engagement for all ages and all abilities.
Further immediate actions that we are taking now:
- Along with other Home Country Athletics Federations (HCAFs) we have committed to take on most of the safeguarding costs in the future, reducing pressure on UK Athletics.
- At the same time, we are driving a better model for providing safeguarding services in our sport across the UK. Our preference at England Athletics is to introduce an independent unit for safeguarding across the sport that may, in time, also pick up other areas of integrity such as clean sport, and that puts education and athlete welfare at its core.
- We have taken on responsibility for road and multi-terrain licensing, competition licensing and calendar planning. We have also taken responsibility for coach and officials' education and the talent pathway. We believe that we can improve the effectiveness, reduce costs and make sure that the services stay relevant by improving feedback and joint development.
- We are supporting UK Athletics' approach to building a better solution for hosting and organising major athletics events in the UK using the skills of experts.
Managing costs, investing in priority areas and being transparent about where the money goes…
At England Athletics, whilst we are stable financially, we need to continually review our own cost base and to be prudent and focused in where we invest our funds in line with our established strategic plan.
England Athletics generates around £8.5M income from a range of sources, but we are still under financial pressure, (particularly as we have taken on full responsibility from UKA for an increasing number of services). Our planned income in 2023/24:
- Grants including Sport England: £3.25M (39%)
- Membership / affiliation: £3.24M (39%)
- Commercial arrangements £0.45M (5%)
- Charged-for services (education, licensing, competitions, etc.) £1.47M (17%)
The costs of membership and access are significantly lower than most other sports. Past champions routinely give up their time to coach, inspire and volunteer. Governance costs per member are also lower than other major sports.
- The athlete registration fee in athletics and running is currently £17, more than 2.5 times less than comparable memberships in cycling (£46), Triathlon (£55) and almost half that of swimming (£30).
At the same time, we receive less in funding than other sports and work to make sure that as much of our income as possible goes to deliver services to members. We will continue to lobby and partner with Government to influence the level of investment into athletics and running:
- Government funding per England Athletics member per year is around £16 (vs £34 on average for the other sports which is more than double).
As a not-for-profit organisation, we will continue to keep overheads to a minimum and ensure that most of the revenue each year is invested into the direct delivery of our strategic priority areas across the sport.
- Only 6% of costs go towards back-office costs with over 70% of the income we raise goes directly back into services and facilities for athletes and clubs such as the delivery of coach and officials’ education, club standards, club development fund, championships delivery, funding for competition providers including the English Schools’ Athletics Association, Youth Development League, National Athletics League, Areas, and Counties and the delivery of the talent pathway including management of England teams.
We are committed to keeping fee levels as low as possible for as long as possible, as we recognise that at all levels of the sport, bodies are facing challenges with rising costs.
To allow us to make positive change whilst retaining low costs, we will need to increase levels of commercial investment and revisit alternative ways of generating revenues through the development of new membership offers including a “friends of England Athletics” voluntary programme to support specific initiatives and for those not currently engaged with England Athletics.
However, this will take time and therefore, after a five-year period of zero to little change, it is likely that will also need to make appropriate increases to affiliation and athlete registration fees to tackle the immediate challenges. More detail will be provided to clubs and member bodies later this month.
We are committed to listening to our members. Through our governance structure of Regional Councils, who have been extremely helpful and supportive in recent years as we make difficult decisions, we will continue to consult and engage on important matters such as member fees. We will continue to encourage wider debate and engagement on this and other important matters in our sport over the next 12 months
I will continue to keep you updated with my thoughts from time to time and would like to take this opportunity to say a personal thank you for all your efforts in developing an inclusive sport where everyone belongs and can flourish, a sentiment I know is shared by my colleagues on the Board and England Council and all our committed staff at England Athletics. Many of your achievements will be celebrated through our annual programme of Regional Volunteer Awards and we look forward to showing our appreciation at the events during the Autumn.