Placing athletes and runners at the heart of everything we do

England Athletics’ 12-year strategy on creating opportunities, enhancing experiences and powering potential

As our sport recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic and athletes, runners, coaches, officials and volunteers from all over the country get back to doing what they love, we are proud to share our 12-year strategy for athletics and running through to 2032.

This is the perfect time to say ‘thank you’. Without the innovation, passion and commitment from everyone involved in the sport over the last 12-months, bringing it back quickly would have been impossible. It is this ‘can-do’ attitude that helps us to continually evolve and that will ensure future success. We are stronger together, as one family.

Close to 2,000 track and field competitions, cross country events or road races have already been licensed this year, whilst as of today we have welcomed 90,000 registered athletes for the 2021/22 season, 70% more than at the same time last year.

The importance of sport and activity in improving physical and mental health is undisputed, but these last 12-months have reaffirmed its power to bring friends, families and communities closer together and unite our nation, even during the most challenging of times.

Our strategy - ‘Athletes and runners at the heart’ (PDF 19MB) - provides us, as the membership and development body for grassroots athletics and running in England, with a renewed sense of purpose to inspire more athletes and runners of all abilities and backgrounds to fulfil their potential and have a lifelong love for the sport.

In the period before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of people participating in athletics and running was increasing, and more clubs and athletes were becoming part of the England Athletics family.

Due to social distancing rules, inevitably in 2020/21 there was, what we hope, a temporary drop in the number of athletes joining their clubs. Conversely, there are signs that new runners are wanting to find opportunities as shown by the continuous growth in our nation-wide recreational running community RunTogether which now has around 150,000 members.

While organised grassroots and community sport were suspended for much of 2020, the first lockdown last spring spawned a new generation of runners. Post-pandemic, the exciting opportunity now for our sport is to capitalise on this participation boom and see this feed into affiliated athletics and running clubs and competitions in 2021 and beyond.

Social running group

Another legacy of lockdown for many people will be improved online access and digital literacy. We responded quickly and innovatively in 2020 by moving to online learning, training, and qualifications in areas such as coaching, leadership and officiating. We also delivered new resources, 200 webinars that engaged over 15,000 people and supported the sport in facilitating more than 400 virtual competitions for our member clubs and athletes. We’ve reached more people as a direct result of opportunity and change and our strategy outlines how we will continue to invest in digital innovation which is critical to the sport’s recovery and future growth.

The 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham presents us, as the guardians of England’s track and field team, with a unique opportunity to support our talented athletes and provide a focal point for inspiring a future generation.

Creating opportunities, enhancing experiences and powering potential

Our new strategic vision is for athletics to become an inclusive sport where everyone belongs and can flourish.

How we will deliver our strategy will be embodied by our values of inspiration, integrity, inclusivity and fun.

We have four guiding principles within our strategy which will ensure a consistent approach in everything we deliver. These are:

  • putting the athlete and runner first
  • high standards and ethical success
  • enhancing people's experiences
  • working together in partnership

Underneath these guiding principles are our five priority areas which are interlinked. Beginning with maintaining participation levels predominantly focused on young people and running. With that will come more growth and support for clubs, club leaders and facilities. We also know that appropriate and high-quality competition is a huge draw for our members and to support this and our clubs, we need more active coaches, leaders and officials. This, in turn, helps produce more high-performing athletes across all event groups and disciplines with athletes and their coaches supported by our talent pathway.

Key focus areas diagram

The journey so far

The work needed to help us shape and then deliver our strategy began in July 2019 with inclusive and extensive club and athlete engagement and consultation. There followed further discussions with our partners, including UK Athletics, the Home Country Athletics Federations, and our National and Regional Councils. This thoughtful and insightful feedback proved invaluable in helping us determine the future direction of our sport.

Our sincere thanks to the athletics and running community extends beyond its support of this strategy to include the support it showed in helping us bring athletics and running back safely during 2020 and 2021 when it was possible to do so. During a significantly interrupted 12-months, we licensed 1,000 track and field, road race, and virtual race events which generated 150,000 athlete performances.

Looking back at 2020 infographic

Delivering our strategy

As a not-for-profit organisation, all income we generate goes back into the sport. Planned investment levels for 2021/22 total £6.7million to deliver our strategic priorities and ultimately benefit our members. To assist with the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have already allocated grants worth over £100k to more than 100 affiliated clubs and member bodies via our Club Support Fund, Facilities Improvement Fund, and Competition Providers Fund. In addition, we have provided further financial support to other competition providers across all disciplines, including the National Athletics League, county associations and at area, regional, and local level. We will also be working in partnership with the Youth Development League to test innovative formats of competition over the next 12 months.

To see the impact this support and funding has had, read our case studies from beneficiaries including:

By the end of 2021/2022, these three distinct funds alone will have distributed much-needed investment worth more than £500,000 into our five key areas, for example, facilities requiring a major upgrade, delivering Covid-secure competitions for young athletes, ensuring the growth of participation and running for everyone, and retaining and recruiting more active coaches, leaders and officials at every level and every discipline.

Measuring success

Looking forward infographic

Rather than the traditional four-year perspective, this strategy has been deliberately mapped out over a 12-year period to enable us to take a longer-term view on the key challenges and opportunities ahead.

The disruption to our economy and society caused by the Covid-19 pandemic means the work required to deliver our strategic objectives will take longer. The sport’s foundations have been shaken, therefore, initiatives and programmes will need more time to embed and take root.

There remain stubborn inequalities not just in our sport but in society that we all need to address. We still have work to do in diversifying our coaching, officials, and volunteer base, whilst working with partners such as UK Athletics to ensure our governance structures and those of the wider sport are fully inclusive to reflect athlete participation. These aren’t issues we can tackle alone. Collaboration is key.

Final perspective

Athletics is where it all begins. Learning to run, jump and throw is the foundation for a lifetime of activity. From there, the key to sustaining participation is by ensuring that everybody, regardless of age, ability or background, can achieve great things through, and for, the sport.

We want every athlete to flourish and reach their full potential. For that to happen, we need to ensure there is a robust network of supported athletics and running clubs and a sport populated with first-class coaches, leaders, officials and competition incorporating clear and inclusive pathways for those who want to achieve at the highest level.