The Midland Counties recently saw a copy of an email that Howard and Clova Court had sent to UK Athletics and England Athletics. With their permission we have turned their email into an Open Letter. The letter paints a bleak picture for athletics in general and for the Midland Counties in particular. The Midland Counties Athletics Association Management Committee believes that we should be listening to what our clubs, athletes, coaches, officials and other volunteers want and that this letter would be a good catalyst to get that discussion started. If you have anything that you want to say then please send your views to the Midland Counties by email to:
Our aim will be to facilitate this discussion and to provide meaningful feedback to both England Athletics and UK Athletics.
Midland Counties Athletics Association Management Committee
Good Afternoon All,
I hope you are all well as we now head into what could be a testing winter for many of us, our families and our communities and I wish you all well through any such times should they affect you.
On a sporting and physical activity front we are heading for a situation with our young people that we will find it very difficult to recover from, secondary school sport is in the worst state I have seen in over 30 years, and that was before Covid. In athletics its very concerning and needs some urgent attention now. Below I will speak about the concerning situation within our sport, specifically in the West Midlands and overall in the Midlands area, where England Athletics can step up and start to make things better.
My athletics journey began on the cinder track of Salford Park next to spaghetti junction with Lozells Harriers where many excellent athletes, managers and officials came from down the years that helped change our sport and make a difference to so many young people coming into our sport. Meanwhile from across the water came a young girl who was not just to change my life but hundreds of others. It was to be almost 8 years before she decided one day to take up athletics at the very late age of 25. To quote the late, great Ron Pickering, at the European champions in Split in 1990, “here’s Clova Court who took up athletics as a fun runner at the age of 26, now here she is on the world stage.”
While Clova is rightly associated throughout her Olympic career with Birchfield Harriers, her athletics actually began on the old cinder track at Tipton Harriers. The grass roots beginning of both myself and Clova is the foundation of our sport. Her dedication and commitment to her club Birchfield Harriers is the stuff of legend. Although she consistently competed all over the world, she turned out for her club and captained the team from the front. Linford Christie, a teammate at several major Championships and Games, spoke of those times recently with so much passion, competition is the lifeblood of any sport and every competition pathway plays a part.
I was the Regional Athletics Development Officer for England Athletics and later our local authority where the athletics programme was the biggest and most successful in the country. At the heart of this was competition, we had the largest inter-schools aged competition programme you could ever see. That was shockingly wiped out by funding cuts by the local authority. It has gone but at the time I felt England and Sport England could have saved it, and really looking at the situation now should have saved it. But that time has gone and I don’t think it could ever be got back. So the competition programmes and opportunities fall on the regional and Area associations headed by England Athletics.
Now here is the current situation: Midlands Athletics is at an all-time low, again this started before Covid, and its nothing to do with The Midlands Association itself who work tirelessly to provide something.
It looks like once again Midland athletes are going to be denied another indoor championship and open track meets, unless you are a 60 metre sprinter. I raised this with England Athletics’ senior management well before Covid and sadly nothing has been done.
I recently read that the International Grand Prix and the British Indoor Championship are to be held at the indoor arena in central Birmingham. I then later read that the Midland Counties say that they are unlikely to have any indoor meets for local athletes and offered up events at Cardiff as an alternative opportunity. So like before the Midland Counties Athletics Association (MCAA) has been thrown out of the situation, basically on the scrap heap, while the north and south associations thrive on indoor events. This is not good enough and the senior team at England Athletics need to do something about this as do the so called City of Sport that Birmingham calls itself.
We are losing athletes because there are no competitions at local, regional or area level. There have been no Midland indoor championships for 4 years with distances above 60 metres. This is really a disgrace despite this being raised with you before, to be blunt there is no excuse for this and even more so now that those elite meetings are being put on by UKA.
Clova and I travelled from the grassroots of the inner city slums of Birmingham and the black country and the local grass roots clubs to the World and Olympic stage. After my wife’s retirement from international athletics she was both a Team GB coach and team manager, but never enjoyed it. She wanted to give something back so we came back to our roots in the Black country and did and continue to do just that, yes we have high performing young athletes in our group of national athletes who will become internationals but also have regional and local athletes just enjoying their sport and being the best they can be.
That’s our world and we are happy with it, but that world is being lost, as are others, with the lack of competition, Clova is in one of our big school academies and athletics is falling way down the participation table because of a lack of competition. While we then say join a club and compete, we have some new athletes coming on board who we could potentially lose to another sport like Netball and football who are flooding them with competition while we have nothing to offer.
All of you should have an opinion on this and let me hear your views especially the senior team who make the decisions. UKA must not be allowed to get away with this having access to that arena for just two elite meets and no doubt probably another 3 weeks training time, while totally ignoring and disrespecting the needs of local athletes here in the Midlands.
While UKA live and hide away in their ivory tower comfort zones catering for the elite, the foundations are crumbling, grass roots athletics is falling apart with the lack of competition opportunities here in the Midlands adding more nails to the athletics coffin. The sport is on its last legs as far as young people are concerned and England athletics is standing by and letting it happen, well supported by the city of “Elite Sport” sport that is Birmingham.
I appreciate this correspondence is long – so thanks for reading it. Yes, we are angry, somebody needs to be. We are still so passionate about our sport and both Clova and I put hundreds of volunteer hours in to keep it going as do many others. People are now turning their backs, other sports are now leading the way with young people, we know that to be as we are in the fore front of young people’s lives and learning.
Howard and Clova Court