Team England: Slap in the face for star and grassroots community

Athletes competing in the British Athletics Cross Challenge Liverpool (inc European Trials) at Sefton Park, Liverpool, UK, on 31 October 2015.
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Team England: Slap in the face for star and grassroots community

2017_London_Marathon_-_Jonny_Mellor

It seems barely two minutes since we were railing against odd choices, bizarre omissions and questionable decision-making for a major championships by those at the top of our sport

But here we are again after the announcement of the England team for the Commonwealth Games in April next year.

A team top-heavy with sprinters, relay runners and field eventers comes as little surprise.

The rather disheartening two fingers to the aspirations of grassroots distance runners perhaps even less so.

Sense of inevitability

Of the 75 athletes selected, just 15 compete over more than one lap of the track. The emphasis on sprints and relays is as inevitable as it is depressing.

On the distance-front, the full quota of male 800m and female 1500m runners have been selected – but any distance further and numbers are increasingly few and far between.

The only pleasant surprise is that Andy Vernon has been selected. The absence of others, though, has left many of us perplexed.

The most glaring omission is that of Jonny Mellor.

The Liverpool Harrier obliterated the qualifying time in Berlin last month by 63 seconds. It was a personal best by almost four minutes.

But apparently that isn’t good enough.

Medal potential

Jonny has been rejected, by all accounts, on the grounds that he isn’t a medal-winning contender and, thus, there won’t be any English representation in the men’s marathon.

But of the 75 selected, how many can truly be considered serious medal contenders?

If England Athletics only took medal contenders, the 75-person team would be vastly reduced indeed.

The short-sightedness that afflicts the powers-that-be running the sport, whether it be the divvying up of funding or selection of teams, is seriously damaging to the sport’s future.

It seems fine to send teams on a jolly to Toronto, but not to the greatest window of opportunity for any aspiring grassroots athlete: the Commonwealth Games. It’s crackers.

What’s the point in dedicating hours of your life in pursuit of international honours only for the door to be slammed shut at the first opportunity?

Slap in the face

Even more frustrating because it’s opinion and not cold, hard fact that decides your fate.

Selection ought to be self-fulfilling. Running is a results-based pursuit at its purist, only muddied by selectors and busy bodies.

What a waste of time and expense the upcoming England Athletics marathon programme will prove to be if 2:12.57 isn’t deemed good enough.

It’s taken Jonny years of dedication and sacrifice – overcoming health problems too – to reach the standard he’s currently at.

His dedication to the pursuit of running ought to be recognised – but this slap in the face is demoralising to him and the wider community to say the least.

Greater scrutiny

The cloak and dagger manner of it all deserves greater scrutiny too.

In the current climate of scrutiny of high performance sport, transparency and good governance are top of the agenda.

More information on the structure, strategy and decision-making processes of publically-funded organisations are required.

Who was involved in the selection meeting? Where are the transcripts of the conversation?

Where there are athletes that blatantly meet the criteria but are ultimately omitted, reasoning is required from the off to stem the sense of brewing injustice.

Setting limits

Jonny isn’t the only one.

Marc Scott has been overlooked despite meeting the standards set in two events.

Tom Lancashire and Robbie Fitzgibbon have both twice gone inside 3:39.60 over 1500m during the time limit set.

Alexandra Bell has two Commonwealth Games standards but won’t be occupying the third 800m spot.

The reasoning will be the stipulated maximum of 75 athletes to be selected, which appears an arbitrary limit.

The number of support staff taken to the Gold Coast next spring will be interesting to note.

Premature selection

Doesn’t it all seem pretty absurd anyway to be picking a team with the championships still six months away?

Can you imagine Gareth Southgate selecting his final squad for the World Cup a full 23 weeks before the first ball is kicked? No, and this exemplifies the completely muddled process.

The 10-day holding camp in Brisbane might already be in the pipeline – but with a full winter to get through and an indoor season still to come, who knows what will happen in the meantime?

Words by Bo James
Image from London Marathon