Home Countries vote to establish task force to address drop out from athletics

On 30 October, the England Athletics Board, the England Council and a representative from the Home Country Athletics Federations (HCAF) met to debate the suggested changes to the existing age groups set out within the UK Athletics (UKA) rule book, following a period of consultation.

The suggested changes were from current age groups of U13, U15 and U17 to new proposed age groups of U12, U14, U16 and U18.

After robust and open debate, two actions were approved:

  1. Firstly, the England Athletics Board voted unanimously to establish a designated task force to build on the core principles of our existing strategy and insights from existing research, by working with people from across the sport (including clubs, schools, athletes and volunteers) to understand the complete picture around engagement of young athletes, what works well and what is driving the increasing number of young athletes to drop out of the sport.
  2. Secondly, the England Council followed by the England Athletics Board separately voted, both by an overwhelming majority, to approve the age group change proposal but with requirement for further consultation around implementation and a revised timeline, with the request of 1 April 2026 for the changes to be implemented.

Following the meeting, Gary Shaughnessy, Chair of the England Athletics Board, and Matthew Dalton, Chair of the England Council, issued the following joint statement:

“At England Athletics, our vision is clear – we want athletics and running to become an even more inclusive sport where everyone belongs and can flourish.

“We know from research and insight that one of the barriers for participation amongst young people is the clash with exam commitments and the subsequent pressure to perform both academically and physically, which is not helped by the existing age group structure.

“This led us, along with fellow HCAFs, to undertake an extensive consultation in line with the time frames set by the UKA Rules Group. The consultation included a UK-wide series of webinars which were attended by 330 people supplemented by two sets of surveys, giving all key stakeholders an opportunity to share their views. The club survey received 122 responses from clubs, with 821 people responding to the individual survey. 

“While there is support for the proposals across the UK amongst athletes under the age of 20 and their parents, we acknowledge there is still uncertainty and concerns around changing the age categories amongst the HCAF member clubs and bodies. As a result, the England Council and the Board voted to approve the proposal but with requirement for further consultation around implementation and a revised timeline. The proposal is for the changes to be implemented on the 1 April 2026. This will allow additional time to work with the athletes, clubs, schools and the competition providers and the wider sport to test, learn and thoroughly operationalise the new age groups categories, addressing the concerns of confusion and potential disruption.

“Along with the other HCAFs we will now engage further with the UK Rules Group and UKA Board to clearly articulate our strategy and to determine the process of adopting a rule change with an implementation date three years hence.

“In addition to this decision, we acknowledge that exam pressure was not the sole cause for decline in participation of the 15-20 year olds and agreed to initiate further research, through a task force. There is a need to fully understand what is driving this worsening trend, look within the sport at best practice in maintaining and increasing engagement alongside issues that make the problem worse.

“We fully valued the collaboration with this consultation process and appreciated the robust quality of debate which informed our decision. Age group change proposals form one component of a wider strategy required to address the continuing decline in track and field participation, alongside other aspects such as competition reform. It is important that we develop proposals in the context of potential impacts on clubs, coaches, volunteers and other parties across the sport to ensure any recommendations are workable. We urge everyone in our sport to engage constructively and to work proactively at all levels to make positive change.

“Athletics is a cornerstone sport for young people and plays a vital role in physical and mental wellbeing. By taking this action now we can make it even more relevant to young athletes today and in the future. The continued commitment from England Athletics is to support change that puts the needs of our athletes first.”

You can read the full report submitted to the UK Rules Group on behalf of all Welsh Athletics, Scottish Athletics, England Athletics and Athletics Northern Ireland.