British Athletics: Deja vu at latest round of funding decisions

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British Athletics: Deja vu at latest round of funding decisions

The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017

The British Athletics Championships and World Trials at the Alexander Stadium, Birmingham, United Kingdom on 1-2 July 2017

This week’s announcement by British Athletics of the latest lucky athletes to win the lottery of public funding once again stoked the ire of athletes and irate fans

It’s a topic almost too boring to write on again. It’s a record that remains stuck – whether it be WCPP decisions or championship team selections – and shows little sign of changing.

Indeed, it only seems five minutes – and not the three years Facebook so helpfully pointed out earlier today – since this piece was written about the short-term obsession of British Athletics.

Banging the drum

*Yawn*

Except, when change hasn’t come and the same problems keep manifesting themselves, it’s vital to keep banging the drum. Only our own indifference will allow the status quo to continue.

It’s important to keep highlighting the questionable decision-making by a publicly-funded body, the distinct lack of transparency, the fact athletes feel the need to turn down support and the success of those that sit outside the system.

It’s as if those at the top don’t watch the same sport as the rest of us. Or perhaps they revel in the now-annual sadomasochistic practice of winding up many of the athletes they’re there to serve.

Yet more puzzling decisions leave fans of the sport with another stick to beat the national governing body with, a stick that’s never too far out of reach – and already well worn down with use.

Groundhog Day

Some will no doubt lamely argue that selectors’ hands are tied. That there’s only so much to go around. That some of those that performed beyond expectation at the world champs last summer have been duly rewarded. That the average age of those receiving funding this year is a rather healthy-looking 24 years, and points to a future based on potential and positivity. That 25 on relay funding and 28 sprinters (44%) in total is fully justified given the four medals won in the final two days in the summer.

But this week’s announcement and the inevitable gnashing of teeth, particularly on social media, really was a case of Groundhog Day.

The most perplexing omission? Well, if these types of tales are often a case of same old story, just different faces, in the case of Laura Weightman, it’s déjà vu indeed.

Laura’s face certainly doesn’t seem to fit at British Athletics as she was left off the list for a second-successive year. This despite the fact, as she so gracefully pointed out in her post on Twitter, that she has enjoyed a stellar year of PBs and championship best performances.

Funding may well not define Laura, and the fact she has excelled this year without public funding is proof enough that Lottery support isn’t the sole difference between success and failure – at least not in her case.

Pulling no punches

The same could be said for the also-ignored London 2017 semi-finalist, Guy Learmonth, who certainly didn’t pull any punches in his analysis of the situation.

‘Wrong coach. Wrong set up. Wrong environment. Clearly. Had the greatest year ever, surpassed all your criteria, I have no track, no gym, nothing, I self-fund everything. I’ve embarrassed your whole system.’

‘If I was still in Loughborough, I wouldn’t be writing this. That’s a fact. The lack of vision, corruption and nepotism is beyond me. See you all later. Thanks for the cheese.’

Refreshingly honest from a man who has seemingly become a victim of the system by choosing to plough his own furrow. The appeals process awaits – though it’s probably best that Guy and his coach Henry Gray don’t hold their breath.

Propping up the system

The fact Laura and Guy have succeeded almost in spite of British Athletics is an indictment, if ever there was one, of a failing system. Rescued by relay medals and Mo Farah in the summer, does the future look so bright with the way things are currently run?

If it is indeed the case that athletes can succeed outside the system, then what are we doing ploughing millions into a measly few medals every four years? Why is public money continuing to prop up a structure of self-fulfilling decision-makers misdirecting the future of the sport?

Public funding and the conditions it places on those receiving it evidently isn’t all that for some people. In some cases it seems much simpler to lead a life outside the system and in control of your own future.

Poisoned chalice

Jess Judd rejected the opportunity to be on funding this time around. Her last stint on British Athletics funding – between 2013-16 – coincided with her move to Loughborough, switch in coaching set-up and subsequent loss of form and love for the sport.

Nobody can deny that her current set-up under her dad, Mick, is working a treat, exemplified with another victory at the second British Athletics Cross Challenge event this weekend.

Perhaps that’s the sum of what British Athletics support has become. It’s a poisoned chalice not worth the hassle, the obligations and inevitable disappointment when you’re inexplicably struck-off later down the line.

Bending the rules

So, why do we need to fund these athletes when they seem to be doing just fine anyway? It would be much simpler if athletes weren’t so reliant on support to fund their aspirations – and weren’t then subject to the trials and tribulations of acceptance and rejection.

This is all well and good for those athletes with sponsors and outside income, those of the ilk of Mo Farah, on government support despite being worth over £4 million and without any certainty that he will even race in GB colours again.

This bending of rules to suit certain individuals is perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the whole charade. If the criteria were applied to all as laid out then the noise would be less deafening, no matter how Neil Black tries to dress it up.

But this isn’t the case. As with the world champs selection in the summer, the lack of transparency around the whole thing stinks.

Lack of transparency

Any organisation seeking public funding for sport must now meet new gold standards of governance. The Code for Sports Governance, launched by UK Sport and Sport England earlier this year, sets out the levels of transparency, accountability and financial integrity required from those who ask for Government and National Lottery funding from April 2017.

The gold standards include increased skills and diversity in decision making, constitutional arrangements that give boards the prime role in decision making and – perhaps most importantly in this case – greater transparency and more information on the structure, strategy and financial position of the organisation.

Quite how British Athletics lives up to these standards in this latest announcement is beyond us.

Outpouring of dissatisfaction

When and where were the first round of Event Specialist Committee (ESC) meetings designed to make recommendations to ‘the Panel’? Who was invited, what were the recommendations and are there any minutes available from these meetings?

When ‘the Panel’s’ opinion ‘in its absolute discretion’ can overrule any recommendations from the ESC meetings, and the views of the performance director can trump even that, doesn’t it render their input largely irrelevant? Isn’t a system based on statistics more reliable, fair and inarguable than the current process based on ‘the Panel’s’ opinion?

If the outpouring of dissatisfaction over the last few days has indicated anything, it’s that athletes and fans are no longer willing to accept this lack of transparency. It’s time for a change.

Words by Bo James
Image from Andy Peat