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British team on amber alert

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(Column by UKA chairman Ed Warner, as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine)

 

15 October 2007

 

The annual stock check is upon us. The track season has closed, the autumn road season is in full swing, cross-country is approaching and awards dinners are in the diary. And, importantly, Britain’s lottery-funded athletes are discussing their achievements with UK Athletics’ performance team. Much hangs on these reviews.


In turn, UKA’s own progress is under review by UK Sport, the lottery funding agency. We recently volunteered to be one of two guinea pigs for a new UK Sport assessment programme. Based on a ‘traffic light’ system that will be familiar to many in the business world, it attempts to gauge the state of each of Britain’s elite programmes in the Olympic sports.


UK Sport currently intends to publish its red, amber and green assessments around the end of the year. We’ve found the pilot a useful exercise, and we’re happy to participate as an acknowledgement of our accountability in spending public funds.


Frankly, though, I don’t need colour-coding to tell me that we must and should do better. In my own mind our performance will always flash amber. To think otherwise would be to deny the challenges in a range of track and field disciplines. Five medals in Osaka are no grounds for complacency.


As a spectator in Japan, I was struck by the heightened atmosphere in the stadium whenever a home athlete competed. On the Tuesday evening, only one Briton was in competition – Tasha Danvers-Smith in the 400m hurdles semi finals. Come London 2012, we need to be able to field truly competitive athletes in a far wider range of events than we are likely to do in Beijing. One Brit in a session won’t be enough.


This highlights the depth of development work that needs to take place across athletics in Britain. Many have told me in recent months of the importance of a strong pyramid if we are to sustain a successful elite squad. I agree entirely. While I am encouraged by the many signs of emerging talent, we cannot yet be confident that international-standard athletes will come through in our currently weaker events.

 

I and UKA have been accused of not caring about these events. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is some excellent work being done at development level to ensure these athletes are being supported. However, not backing all of the ideas presented to us does not mean that we don’t want ideas. We do. What is clear to me is that fresh thinking is required if we are to succeed on a broader athletic front. UK Sport’s lottery funding does not extend to that work – its focus is narrow. But we are determined to provide support and stimulus by other means.


Don’t, though, think that I’m not pleased by the season just ended. I was delighted by much of it. I just want us to do better.