CEO Blog: March 2024

1 April signals the beginning of a new operational year for England Athletics, and with clubs reaffiliating and athletes registering ahead of a busy 12 months, our CEO, Chris Jones, has given his thoughts on the current state of play within the sport in this country, and the organisation’s priorities over the next year.

"As CEO, a big part of my role is getting out and about, attending events, seeing how the sport functions, and speaking to as many of you as possible, in order to ensure that we’re representing you and your views in the best possible way and that we are building effectively towards a sustainable future for our sport and all of its participants."

I wanted to start by reflecting on one day earlier this month, which offered me the opportunity to do exactly this.

Among the numerous events across the country’s fields, hills, roads and tracks that day were the English Schools Cross Country event in Pontefract, the England Athletics 5k Championships in Leicester, and a Youth Development training weekend in Loughborough, for aspiring athletes, their coaches and parents.

men at Podium 5k

As with every event staged across that weekend and every other one throughout the year, volunteers were the bedrock of the activity.

It was particularly poignant that, on that same evening, I was honoured to attend a celebration event in the Midlands to recognise our 2023 National Volunteer Award winners. The event was attended by the winners in the various categories, who were able to take the opportunity to explain what they do for our sport, and what motivates them to do it. Hearing their perspectives on how we best create and facilitate opportunities for others to come into the sport - at a time when pressure on people's time has never been so intense – was extremely valuable. This reinforced the point that, if we are to continue moving forward as a sport, we must safeguard volunteering, and recognise how fundamental volunteers are to its very existence.

West Midlands Volunteer Award winners

We must always review how we deliver our sport, and there is absolutely a model where a blended approach, including paid and voluntary delivery can and does work. We must all continually look to move with the times, to evolve our offering, and to embrace opportunities to change where change is needed. This will require a collective effort between those working in the sport for a living and those giving their time simply because they want to and because it is a hobby. The fundamental requirement for volunteering will to my mind be as important in the next 100 years as it has been for the last century.

However, it’s not just for the good of current athletes and runners, clubs and member bodies that we must ensure the sustainable future of the sport.

We all recognise that our society faces numerous challenges, some of which have been extenuated as a result of the pandemic. People live arguably busier lives than ever before and our National Health Service is, in my view, in significant need of investment if it is to recover.

I have no doubt that our sport can, and does, provide preventative care and intervention in great measure to help the nation combat both the physical and mental effects and impacts felt through this current crisis.

Those volunteers that we recognised at our celebration event, and the thousands more who work tirelessly across the country, are standard bearers for all that is good and positive about our sport and sport in general.

I share the view that I know is held by many – that athletics and running can help counteract some of the biggest challenges facing our society, and that ongoing, sustained levels of investment in sport and physical activity to help engrain good lifestyle habits will ease the pressure on the National Health Service.

RunTogether group

I sincerely hope that, as and when the General Election takes place during 2024, this is recognised through sustained and increased public investment in sport being made available from education, health, regeneration and other government departments, to support many of the kind of athletics and running initiatives that we recognise as being part and parcel of our sporting offering.

This is something we shall certainly be lobbying for as part of our ongoing work in influencing Government and politicians through the cross-party parliamentary group for running that England Athletics leads, working with politicians such as Kim Leadbeater MP, who Chairs the APPG for running.

Read more APPG news

Of course, being able to convince people of the wider benefits of our sport is helped no end by a spotlight being shone on it, in terms of mass participation and elite competition, which is another reason why the next few months will be so exciting.

In the coming weeks the TCS London Marathon will return to the streets in all its glory, and we will see the first outdoor track and field competitions take place across England, including the various County Championships that will take place during early May.

The countdown is well and truly on to what should be a great Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, 100 years on from the Chariots of Fire games held in the French capital in 1924.

We were all absolutely delighted to celebrate the achievements of Molly Caudery in recent weeks, as she became the World Indoor Pole Vault Champion on British soil. Molly has progressed through our talent pathway in England and has previously competed in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and at age group level, so it was fantastic to see her dedication rewarded in such style.

Molly Caudery

The interviews her father conducted about her title will remain in my mind for some time. As a father myself I can only imagine the pride that he felt in watching his daughter become the best in the world.

In the coming months we will also have the pleasure of delivering our own England Athletics National Age Group Championships during July; reintroducing the England Athletics International to the calendar in August; delivering the inaugural England Athletics Club Relay Championships in Birmingham; and also delivering a new Under 20 Track and Field International in Windsor during the same month.

View our Championships calendar

Again, all of this, and much more, will be possible thanks to the efforts of selfless individuals volunteering their time to benefit others. To put the focus deservedly back on them, I’d like to reinforce our dedication to supporting volunteers and to removing unnecessary barriers and roadblocks to participation where they exist, to make that journey for volunteers and participants an enjoyable and smooth one.

We know that we have more work to do in this respect, particularly in the track and field aspects of our sport and in reviewing and refining some of the qualifications that are provided in areas such as coaching and officiating, particularly at entry levels.

Starter Assistants at indoor champs

We need to build the breadth and depth of the entry base, encouraging, and not deterring, more individuals who want to get involved and to help our sport to remain relevant and at the heart of our society for years to come. This will take a collective effort at all levels of the sport but as England Athletics we have a responsibility to act in terms of making that participant and volunteer experience a good one and putting those individuals at the heart of our offering, listening to what works and what needs to be improved.

If we keep doing the same thing in the same way and expect different results, then of course this is a recipe for failure, so we will keep that in mind in undertaking this responsibility. I feel it is often too easy for people to say no, we have tried this before and it didn’t work, and to just accept the status quo.

Life moves on, things change around us, and we all need to adapt, evolve, and change with the times. Better to try and test new approaches and to fail than not to try at all.

On behalf of everyone at England Athletics I wanted to reinforce our thanks to you all for everything that you continue to do for our great sport as we move into the Spring and Summer season. It promises to be very special.