Column by England Athletics chairman John Graves, as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine.
17 December 2007
The sport has been aware for some time of the need to direct more resources to the grass roots of the sport if it is to achieve its primary objective of improving performance in every event and at every level. This was why England Athletics was set up and why UKA were to move away from delivery to become responsible for elite performance and for the general strategic direction of the sport. Unfortunately there was resistance in some quarters to this change in direction. The recent announcement from Niels de Vos regarding the need to restructure UKA so that it fulfils its primary strategic role will now allow this process of change to accelerate.
On the same day that the UKA restructuring was announced, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport also announced a change in priorities for Sport England, a change that both England Athletics and UK Athletics have been championing for some time. This welcome move away from a health and participation agenda to one of investment in coaching, clubs and competitive sport will allow England Athletics to target its resources in the priority areas of the sport that will lead to improved standards of performance, namely athlete development, coaching and club development.
However the restructuring at UKA cannot happen in isolation. The fact that UKA will be taking responsibility for elite performance and the overall strategy for the sport of athletics, places a greater responsibility on England Athletics (and indeed Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) for delivery and development of the sport at sub-elite level. It is incumbent on us as trustees of the sport to work with all partners and organisations to deliver better programmes if our athletes are to achieve significant success at whatever level.
Much has been achieved by the Board and the 9 regional teams of England Athletics in the past 18 months and the new Chief Executive, when appointed early in the new year, will be tasked with working with UKA and other organisations to ensure that any activity that is devolved to England Athletics is relevant and ‘fit for purpose’ and will achieve the objective of improving performance. There can be no more ‘initiatives for initiatives sake’.
For too long there has been a ‘silo’ mentality in the sport with many organisations achieving much but working in isolation, hence the proliferation of initiatives around the country and the overcrowded competition calendar. Little thought has been given to the whole canvas of the sport. In the past there has been no strategic direction or leadership from UKA who after all have been responsible for the sport.
De Vos and Warner have addressed this and their strategic leadership should be welcomed.
I have sensed for some time that there is a growing feeling that now is the time to move on but it is the time to move on together. Many organisations are already having discussions with England Athletics about how we can work together to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of our sport.
The announcement by de Vos and the subsequent devolvement of activity to the Home Countries will allow this co-operation to progress and for the sport to blossom and flourish for the first time for many years. This is an exciting time for athletics: don’t let’s waste the opportunity that these two momentous changes in direction afford our sport.