North­ern af­fil­i­a­tion fee pro­posal


Athletics Weekly - - Contents -

WHEN OF­FI­CIALS from North­ern Athletics sit down to be­gin their an­nual open meet­ing at Long­ford Park in Manch­ester at 11am on Satur­day, Novem­ber 11, the main is­sue on the agenda will be the in­tro­duc­tion of an area af­fil­i­a­tion fee.

The body for the North of Eng­land wants its ath­letes to pay £2 each from Oc­to­ber next year – the equiv­a­lent price of a burger or a cup of cof­fee, they say – and last week they sent out a lengthy let­ter to clubs with the de­tailed pro­pos­als.

At stake is the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s very sur­vival af­ter par­ent body Eng­land Athletics told them their an­nual grant will re­duce next year and might not ex­ist at all from 2019 on­wards due to wider fund­ing cuts.

Not sur­pris­ingly, big-name ath­letes – past and present – leapt to the sup­port of North­ern Athletics. They in­clude Jes­sica En­nis-Hill, Jenny Mead­ows, So­phie Hitchon, Ron Hill, Holly Brad­shaw and Peter El­liott.

En­nis-Hill said: “I have al­ways sup­ported the North­ern Cham­pi­onships. They have pro­vided an im­por­tant step­ping stone through­out my ca­reer and I hope they can con­tinue the bril­liant work they do for athletics in gen­eral,” while her coach, Toni Minichiello, added: “North­ern Athletics and the North­ern Cham­pi­onships they pro­vide, are a crit­i­cal part of the de­vel­op­ment of all ath­letes as they move through the com­pe­ti­tion path­way.

The con­tin­u­a­tion of North­ern Athletics is cru­cial to our sport and I give my full sup­port to them with this cur­rent ini­tia­tive.”

North­ern Athletics cur­rently re­ceives an an­nual grant of £41,000 from Eng­land Athletics but this is due to fall to £32,000 in 2018-19 and the na­tional gov­ern­ing body has been un­able to guar­an­tee any fund­ing there­after.

“With­out a guar­an­tee for 2019-20 and 2020-21 the pos­si­bil­ity of a short­fall of over £30,000 for each of those two years alone would be cat­a­strophic for us,” says North­ern Athletics in its let­ter to clubs, which is head­lined: “North­ern Athletics – your sup­port, our sur­vival, your fu­ture”.

The area body con­tin­ued: “The run-down costs, if we had to fold, are con­sid­er­able and have to be fac­tored in es­pe­cially when our fi­nances are con­ducted within such a tight and test­ing bud­get. With­out sup­port now from the clubs we have a cur­rent life­span of only three years at the most.”

North­ern Athletics es­ti­mates it has al­most 50,000 ath­letes from its area who con­trib­uted around £700,000 to Eng­land Athletics this year via the na­tional gov­ern­ing body’s af­fil­i­a­tion scheme, which is £14 per head and set to rise next year.

The news of a North­ern Athletics af­fil­i­a­tion fee will come as no sur­prise to many ath­letes in the area. The idea of an area af­fil­i­a­tion fee has been given the thumbs up in a cou­ple of sur­veys with the story cov­ered in AW’s Au­gust 24 is­sue.

The sup­port is partly due to a de­sire to main­tain the rich her­itage of the sport. The pre­de­ces­sor to North­ern Athletics, af­ter all, the North­ern Coun­ties Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion, was formed in 1879 – one year be­fore the Am­a­teur

Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion – mak­ing it the world’s old­est athletics gov­ern­ing body.

Ath­letes and coaches also want to main­tain “a voice” in their area and, most of all, the sur­vival of the 17 area cham­pi­onships cur­rently staged on all sur­faces.

Mike Bax­ter, the coach and for­mer dis­tance run­ner, de­scribes North­ern Athletics as ful­fill­ing a “vi­tal role” and “step­ping stone”. He added: “It would be a very sad day for the sport if ath­letes were not able to en­joy com­pe­ti­tion in all its for­mats pro­vided by North­ern Athletics.”

For­mer North­ern cham­pi­ons in­clude Se­bas­tian Coe,

Steve Cram, triath­lete Alis­tair Brown­lee, Mike McLeod and Bren­dan Foster, plus 800m run­ner Mead­ows, who says: “I re­mem­ber com­pet­ing in my first North­ern Athletics Cham­pi­onships as a 13-yearold. It was the first time I had com­peted in such a big event in a big sta­dium. The com­pe­ti­tion timetable ran on time, there was elec­tronic timing, the sta­dium an­nouncer sounded just like the one on the TV, and the of­fi­cials brought an air of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and au­thor­ity.

“It be­came an an­nual fo­cus and highlight for me and gave me vi­tal com­pe­ti­tion and the op­por­tu­nity to progress my cham­pi­onship prepa­ra­tion skills. Even as an es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional ath­lete, the North­ern Cham­pi­onships would re­main in my com­pe­ti­tion sched­ule.”

York­shire mid­dle-dis­tance leg­end El­liott says: “North­ern Athletics and ev­ery­thing the or­gan­i­sa­tion rep­re­sents is, for me, a very im­por­tant as­pect of the lives of the thou­sands of ath­letes who com­pete at all lev­els in athletics in the

North. I was for­tu­nate to win a few North­ern Cham­pi­onships ti­tles on the track and at cross coun­try and hav­ing been cho­sen to rep­re­sent North­ern Athletics in an 800m at Crys­tal Palace, I ran a 1:50.7 UK age 16 best, which was to be the plat­form to a rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.

“The role North­ern Athletics per­form is so im­por­tant es­pe­cially at grass­roots and club level and the thought that this is un­der fi­nan­cial threat is very dis­ap­point­ing to hear. The events that the North­ern Coun­ties or­gan­ise and the ti­tles they have on of­fer are so im­por­tant in the com­pe­ti­tion cal­en­dar for all the age groups and dis­ci­plines.

“North­ern Athletics’ ad­min­is­tra­tion, of­fi­cials and the vol­un­teers have done a tremen­dous job over the years and I would like to see this con­tinue so we have the pipe­line com­ing through on the track, the roads, and the coun­try and in the field to con­tinue to win more medals at the ma­jor cham­pi­onships.”

Hill, the for­mer Euro­pean, Com­mon­wealth and Bos­ton marathon win­ner, adds: “I am sorry to hear about the predica­ment the North­ern Coun­ties find them­selves in due to the pro­posed ces­sa­tion of fund­ing. I would like to say that the North­ern Coun­ties Cham­pi­onships played a great part in my de­vel­op­ment as an ath­lete lead­ing to three Olympics and gold medals in a Euro­pean Games in Athens and a Com­mon­wealth Games in Ed­in­burgh. I hope your search for al­ter­na­tive fund­ing is suc­cess­ful.”

North­ern Athletics says it has been “forced” to ask its ath­letes for an af­fil­i­a­tion fee and not sur­pris­ingly their let­ter to clubs con­tains some crit­i­cism of the na­tional gov­ern­ing body. “We have tried es­pe­cially over the last three years to press our cause with Eng­land Athletics but we are con­cerned that our role within the sport and the need for fi­nan­cial sup­port is not un­der­stood by them,” the or­gan­i­sa­tion, which is chaired by Tony Wood, states.

Eng­land Athletics, how­ever, has in­sisted it views the English area bod­ies as “an im­por­tant part of the com­pe­ti­tion path­way” and that it has in­vested £1 mil­lion into the area bod­ies and part­ners like the English Schools Athletics As­so­ci­a­tion and that or­gan­i­sa­tions like North­ern Athletics “have the right to ex­plore their own ways of gen­er­at­ing ad­di­tional in­come”.

But North­ern Athletics warns: “The pos­si­ble demise of the ar­eas is real and we can­not be sure that our na­tional gov­ern­ing body see this sce­nario as a pos­si­bil­ity or even fully recog­nise our im­por­tance and role in that lad­der. If they did then fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment to us would have been with­out ques­tion but un­for­tu­nately such as­sur­ances have not been given.”

The area body adds: “With­out North­ern Athletics there would be a huge vac­uum in our sport. The lad­der of com­pe­ti­tion would be bro­ken and the vi­tal step in the com­pe­ti­tion cal­en­dar would dis­ap­pear for both ath­letes and coaches.”



JENNY MEAD­OWS, on the North­ern Cham­pi­onships

Ath­letes in the North of Eng­land ben­e­fit from 17 area cham­pi­onships

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