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UKA 2009 Logo

16 June 2009

Article by Ed Warner as seen in Athletics Weekly Magazine

Three topics loomed large in a meeting I had last week with the sports editor of a national newspaper: the fight against drugs, which British athletes might win medals in 2012, and why athletics has disappeared from many schools. Nothing new, but an encapsulation of the challenge facing athletics in building public support through the media.

The number of column inches devoted to athletics in the national press continues to decline. Partly this reflects the squeeze that newspapers are feeling from a combination of recession and the growth of digital media. Most papers have cut the number of their sports pages. However, football has grown its share of declining pagination to the detriment of almost all other sports.

Athletics has its own particular problems, though. Drugs-related issues have eaten up a huge proportion of those column inches that have been devoted to the sport. And we haven’t enough British superstars at present to win the battle for the ‘floating’ space that is given over by editors to the hot stories of the day.

In this context, I’ve been quietly pleased that we have managed to stand our corner in promoting athletics in Britain through the national press in recent times – helped in no small part by both our athletes and our commercial partners. This is also recognition of the strong foundations of public interest in athletics – and not just in Olympic years. The sports editor’s question about our medal prospects was a reflection of that interest. Successful British athletes will sit easily on his front page, which would not be the case for many sports.

Over time, the most critical of the topics we debated will prove to be that of school athletics. Tomorrow’s stars will not appear from thin air as if by magic. Nor will they be converts from other sports who have laid the foundations necessary for athletics success on our behalf.

The reasons for athletics’ declining share of the school sporting calendar have been well aired. Last week, we launched an initiative intended to address these factors and to reverse the decline: the Aviva UKA Academy. This brings together our series of programmes for children in an inspiring fashion and, most importantly, gives support for hard-pressed schools and teachers in providing athletics.

It should be noted that such an initiative could not happen without the combined efforts and forward thinking of the Home Country Athletics Federations and Schools Athletics Associations, who have embraced the Academy and the delivery of the schemes it comprises.

Running, jumping and throwing provide the core skills for most sports. This is one reason why we lobby hard for government resources to support athletics in schools. However, we don’t exist simply to act as a breeding ground for talent in other sports. In years to come, I hope that the Aviva UKA Academy provides the first steps for British athletes en route to the front page.