An Open Letter.

I received this one yesterday – it is what it says it is and I don’t need to recommend a document signed by the eight people at the foot.   Four of them are Scots.   Read on.

Open letter to everyone who cares about athletics:

Track and Field Athletics; The Facts

In the last 30 to 40 years athletics has changed from being run largely by volunteers (3 paid professional administrators and 9 National coaches under the British Amateur Athletics Board prior to 1991) to having 220 administrative and coaching staff costing over £10 million per annum. Since funding for performance began in 1999 more that £300 million has gone to athletics governing bodies, of which more than 50% has come from lottery or public funds.

Many people who have been directly involved in the sport during this transition in both voluntary and professional capacities are deeply concerned that the present powerful, rigid and very expensive structure masks overwhelming but officially denied decline in track and field athletics. The facts are:-

The latest Active People Survey 2013 (APS) states that 140,000 people over the age of 16 take part in track and field athletes as their prime sport. But analysis of results on the governing body’s own website shows that, in fact, approximately only 7000 over 16s compete in the sport 5 times per year or more. If the APS figures were correct around 1000 athletes would be found on each track in the country on training nights. Observation suggests that the real figure is around 50, which is compatible with the 7000 who are known to compete. The number of senior athletes declined in 2013 from 2012. The APS overstates the figures by a factor of 20.

Elite Performance
When elite funding was approved in 1998 the only objective KPI was to increase medals at Olympics and World outdoor Championships. The target for athletics at the Olympics was set at 6 medals for 2000 (matching the 1996 total) rising to 12 in 2012. The total achieved in 2012 was 6, no increase after 14 years of funding. In the World Championships in 1997 Great Britain won 6 medals and in 2013 Great Britain won 6 medals, again no increase.

In a letter to an MP in Dec 2012, the head of Sport England stated there were 42,000 active coaches in athletics. The latest figures from Sport England, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in 2013, gives 14,111. More than 50% of this number are not designated as coaches but ‘leaders’, having obtained this qualification by merely attending a one or two day course. Analysis of qualified coaches from 2008 to 2012 suggests the number has declined by 50%. The number of active qualified coaches is now around 3000.

It is very difficult to obtain accurate information on officials, but the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. At all levels below elite, meetings are being run without sufficient qualified officials. The majority of officials are not registered and more that 50% of all meetings could not take place without using these officials. A meeting a Loughborough (an athletics Centre of Excellence) to select athletes for an international meeting was cancelled through lack of officials in March this year.

A lack of transparent, consistent whole sport performance measures hides the fact that £300 million since 1999 has resulted in just 7000 16+ track and field participants and 3000 coaches in 2013. Only 6 medals per global championship have been achieved, as opposed to the 12 targeted when performance funding started – and 5 of the 10 individual medals have been won by athletes who live and train abroad with foreign coaches. There has been no Olympic Legacy other than decline, a situation that demands urgent enquiry.

Gwenda Ward, Olympian, coach; Rob Whittingham, Track Statistician and author; Tom McNab, ex National coach, author and playwright; John Anderson, ex National Coach; Bill Laws, Chair, ABAC: John Bicourt, Olympian, coach; Hamish Telfer Ph.D coach, author and academic. Frank Dick Ph.D Former Director of Coaching, British Athetics Federation.