Podcast #48: England Athletics leadership discuss key issues for 2023

As we look back on the year 2023 so far and start to turn our attention to what promises to be a really exciting outdoor season, England Athletics is delighted to share a panel discussion involving our chair Gary Shaughnessy, CEO Chris Jones, and head of talent development Sarah Benson.

The in-depth conversation offered a ‘temperature check’ on the sport as it currently is and spanned a range of athletics and running-related topics, from domestic competition and England teams competing overseas through to the retention and recruitment of coaches and officials, facilities, safeguarding and the sport-wide discussion around transgender and protecting the female category.

Below is a summary of some of the main talking points as well as an update on UKA Members – links are below to listen to the full podcast.

On…the priorities for England Athletics and the sport in general this year.

Gary Shaughnessy: "We’ve got some short-term challenges and some long-term challenges and opportunities. Short-term, the amount of competition [means] we are spread pretty thin. We’ve seen the numbers in the 15-17-year age-group continue to drop and we’ve got to make sure that we entertain and we make people want to be involved in the sport when they’ve got plenty of other options and opportunities.

"The long-term challenges for us though are how do we make this sport, which is a great sport, really sustainable."

On…supporting the delivery of competition

Chris Jones: "The role of England Athletics, an organisation of our size with 70 individuals employed, supporting a sport that is 168,000-strong in terms of the number of registered club athletes and runners in 1,700 clubs and member bodies, we can deliver some competitions ourselves at a national level, but ultimately our ability then to work in partnership with, and through, other established organisations and new competition providers to ensure that they are providing the athletes with the relevant competition to help their development."

"Continuing to support county associations as we have done for a number of years and also the area competition providers with upwards of £1million that’s gone into area-level competition over the last decade or so and supporting providers like the National Athletics League, the Youth Development League…English Schools' AA, we’ll be funding them again this year to the tune of £100,000 towards their competition programme as we have done each year for over a decade."


Sarah Benson:

"The club environment is the heart of the sport, so what we do as a talent programme complements that. We try and nurture it, through the athlete-coach pair or the club they are in and see how it progresses. Everything we do is about that holistic development of the person, so we are trying to teach life skills…about looking after themselves."

"They may well not be the next Keely Hodgkinson that comes through, but they could well be the next coach, the next official or indeed they may have children that they want to bring through athletics and they have to have a positive experience."

On…England team selections

Sarah Benson: "We are trying to provide international representation opportunities from that under-18 experience with something like the Commonwealth Youth Games to smaller trips where we take senior athletes to various competitions around Europe and the UK to give them that experience of competing at elite international level so when they do get that GB call-up into a European or Worlds or Olympic or Paralympic team, they’ve had some experience of travelling with a team through their home nation."

On…safeguarding and welfare

Chris Jones:

"Everything falls away unless you can keep people safe in the sport – it’s the number one requisite we’ve got as the governing body."

"England Athletics was at the forefront of commissioning the Christopher Quinlan-led review. It’s led to reforms in safeguarding in the sport. A lot of our work as home countries is working with clubs to ensure that they’ve got the right policies and procedures and personnel in place, as welfare officers in the club. There is a lot of work involved, it’s a journey and it’s going to take time."


Chris Jones: "Alongside our home country partners, we work very closely with UK Athletics who are the gatekeepers of the UK Rules of competition and are the World Athletics recognised governing body."

"Transgender is a hugely sensitive topic that polarises opinion. Ultimately, it’s a balance between fairness and inclusion."

"Essentially, we supported the UKA statement around the protection of the female category and creation of an open category, but it’s ultimately UK Athletics that will make the decision on policy implementation.”"

On…UKA Members Forum

Gary Shaughnessy: "The UKA Members Forum is effectively a mechanism for the members of UK Athletics to contribute to the direction that UK Athletics is moving and also act as a sounding board and critique for what UK Athletics is doing, holding them to account, but also giving them an insight into the athletics world from different perspectives and make sure we’re focused on the things that matter to the clubs, to the athletes, the officials, the coaches across the UK."

"What we are trying to do is have a much more open approach and really engage the individual country groups and the clubs in a more open way to make sure the voices of clubs are heard and to make sure the voices of coaches and officials in England and road runners as well as track and field."


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