12 January 2007

FRA/UK Athletics issues

Dowy has asked me to post this on the site for people to look at.Despite some of the comments on their Forum I'd like to think that the FRA are continuing to get things sorted out......

The FRA and UK Athletics.Why it matters !!
from Dave Jones

Most fellrunners really don’t give a damn about UK Athletics, Sport England, England Athletics, NoEAA or any of their various Committees, sub-Committees or anything else. All they want to do is get out on the fells, go to races and perhaps have a crack at the English/British Championship. That is a perfectly healthy attitude to have BUT, if it had been left to UK Athletics, we wouldn’t have had a Calendar of races for either 2005 or 2007. On both occasions and without any consultation or prior warning they altered the conditions governing either race insurance or the qualifications of race officials in such a way as to make it impossible for races to be registered without falling foul of their conditions. In other words, their actions would have effectively wrecked the competitive side of fellrunning for two years out of the last three. That’s why it matters and why I think that it is well past the time when the FRA needs, for the sake of the sport, to leave the interference of UK Athletics behind and run our sport ourselves for the sole benefit of fellrunners.

Had it not been for some frantic, last-minute scrabbling negotiations and dubious compromises then the appalling situation depicted above would have come to pass but why it should be necessary for the FRA to be placed in this demeaning position time and time again and be left with far from satisfactory solutions just waiting for the next UK Athletics cock-up is beyond me. I suspect it is also beyond a lot of other FRA Members.
I resigned from the FRA Committee in November because, for the first time in over nineteen years, I was convinced that the FRA Committee was not acting as the Members would wish it to act, nor in the best interests of fellrunning. I don’t seem to be alone in this – at the AGM a Motion was put forward for the FRA to secede from UK Athletics and hence return the management of fellrunning to fellrunners. The Chairman refused to let the Motion go forward as it had missed the deadline for submission but he agreed that the issue should be discussed at the end of the meeting. This discussion was quite lengthy and detailed and at its conclusion a vote was taken of all the members present at the AGM to see how people felt – this vote was “overwhelmingly” (quoted from the AGM Minutes) in favour of seceding from UK Athletics.
The response to this obvious mandate I would have thought ought to be to immediately ballot the membership and then act according to the result. However, all that has happened is that the sub-Committee formed after the October Committee meeting has been asked to continue looking at the issue yet again !! This sub-Committee has indicated that it probably won’t be able to come to any conclusions before the end of March and the next scheduled FRA Committee meeting when the findings can be discussed is in the middle of April, so it may well be that nothing will be done before the June “Fellrunner” is published and therefore the whole sorry mess will just roll on and on to the next AGM without any resolution. This is what I suspect some present members of the FRA Committee would prefer, although in fairness Tony Varley, as the new Chairman did say that a postal ballot ballot of all members would be held when the sub-committee reported back but that could be an awful long time away.

I really don’t want to re-iterate all the dreadful things that UK Athletics have done over the last few years, although I have kept a record of them all. Apart from admitting that our sport is a “low priority” in their concerns they have consistently failed to communicate with us. They have made decisions affecting the sport without consultation. They have given us misleading statements and they have generally proved that they neither care about fellrunning nor are competent to manage it. Despite their many protestations that the relationship would improve it has actually got worse. Why the FRA Committee insists on remaining attached to their coat-tails is a very disturbing mystery. At the AGM a question was asked, following the torrent of criticism of UKA, which sought to find out what the advantages of remaining with them might be – apart from Tony Varley mentioning free race insurance, the usefulness of which has been proven twice already to be extremely suspect, and some financial assistance for the England International Team there was no response from anyone, which is hardly a ringing endorsement !!

I fear very much that this issue, which does affect the structure of our sport in so many ways, may well be swept under the carpet and so I would like to requisition an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss this single matter and make a decision which reflects the feelings of the Membership. To do this I need the agreement of at least 5% of the Membership – this is not necessarily an agreement with the proposal but an agreement that we need a meeting. I will be circulating race organisers and Club Secretaries about this and provided I get the necessary support, which is 300+ signatures, then I will ask the Secretary to call a meeting. It would be nice if this could be sooner rather than later, so if you’re reading this and feel as strongly as I do about the issue then please drop me an email at djonesfra@aol.com stating that you would like such a meeting to be called.

I have been approached by quite a few people enquiring about what would happen if we did secede from UK Athletics and I put the points below on the FRA Forum as a response. However, as the Forum is only read by a relatively small proportion of the membership I thought it would be best to repeat it here – and apologies to those who will therefore have read it twice but I think its arguments are valid.

1. Fellrunning would once again be a sport governed by fellrunners for fellrunners without any of the intrusive interference we have suffered over the last few years and we would hence avoid the constant worry about what UK Athletics might spring on us next.

2. Our race insurance would be based purely on our own Rules & Safety Requirements and not on the vagaries of UK Athletics’ ever-changing conditions. It could be paid for by an increase of £2 per annum on the subs, which would probably still leave enough over to continue to allow FRA race organisers to register their races for nothing and it would still leave the FRA subscription as one of the best deals around !!

3. The FRA would be able to register races anywhere in the UK, which, if race registration were free, would doubtless be a big draw and which would also be a big step towards re-unifying our sport. Remember there is no “English” in the FRA’s title and before we threw in our lot with UK Athletics’ predecessors it was THE body for fellrunning throughout the country, with representatives from all the Home Countries on its Committee and it all ran like clockwork.

4. Assuming a solid response to 3. above, the FRA Calendar would become a more comprehensive publication and hopefully, in time, the ridiculous plethora of Calendars (no fewer than SIX at present if my maths is right !!) would decrease.

5. English Championships – Senior & Junior. As these are presently funded completely by the FRA then there would be no change.

6. British Championships – Senior & Junior. At present all that UK Athletics contributes towards these Championships are the medals and (occasionally) a small grant for race promotion. The organisation of the whole thing is largely down to the FRA with co-operation from the individual race organisers in the other Home Countries – in fact the UK Athletics’ British Fell & Hill Running Relays are still universally referred to as “the FRA Relays”.
Either the FRA could approach UK Athletics and offer to continue to organise the British Championships for them, with appropriate support, or, if that were refused, just go ahead and organise them anyway – let’s face it, no-one else would take on the job – and finance the medals either from central FRA funds or from a separate fund contributed to by the organisers of the constituent Championship races.

7. Scottish, Welsh and Irish Championships – would continue to be organised by the respective committees of those countries as they are now.

8. Internationals. Apart from the fact that a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of fellrunners have any interest at all in International competition I would like to refer to the situation in Orienteering where ALL of their International programme (Start/Potential/Performance at both Senior and Junior levels) is funded externally from either Sport England or UK Sport. If it works for them then why not for us – we would, after all, be a UK-wide body if we seceded from UK Athletics.

9. Juniors. A large proportion of the finance for Junior affairs comes either from FRA funding, which would presumably continue, or from Grant Funding from a variety of bodies, most of which would still be accessible whether we were part of UK Athletics or not.

10. Clubs. Since the advent of UK Athletics the Club situation has become utterly laughable – thanks to their “just tick the box” method of registering Clubs for different disciplines we now have no fewer than 365 Clubs registered for fellrunning (including the charmingly named “Coffin Dodgers Running Club”, based in Dorset !!). This is clearly a nonsense; of those 365 there are probably about 70 or 80 who have a genuine interest in fellrunning. If we were to revert to the system the FRA applied pre-UK Athletics then Clubs wishing to participate in the team section of the English (or, for that matter, British) Championship could affiliate to the FRA for a nominal sum (£3/£5 ??) and these affiliated Clubs would then once again be a true reflection of the participants in the sport – if the other 290 or so didn’t bother then what would have been lost ??

I have heard it said from some people on the FRA Committee that it would be a shame if we were to leave the “athletics family”. If such a family exists then it must be one of the most dysfunctional ones imaginable where the UKA parental attitude seems to consist of lack of communication, arrogance, selfishness, dissimulation, neglect and abuse towards its struggling children.
Maybe it’s time for fellrunning to realise that the parental shortcomings are permanent and not temporary, fly the nest and set up a happy home on its own.
I hope some of the points above are helpful. I called my posting on the Forum “A Vision of the Future” and while it is an ideal it is all nevertheless eminently feasible and practical and would, I submit, not only get our sport out of the increasing difficulties our reliance on UK Athletics has caused us but would set us on an altogether healthier course for the future.

If you agree, or think we need a meeting to follow up the feeling expressed so strongly at the AGM, then please drop me that email – djonesfra@aol.com

P.S. Since this article was submitted I understand from Tony Varley, FRA Chairman, that the FRA Committee Meeting on 13th January 2007 was asked to approve of a ballot of the membership on the UK Athletics issue. Details of this no doubt appear elsewhere in the magazine but, as a ballot is obviously the fairest and most democratic way of resolving the matter I’m quite content to happily accept that and not call for an EGM. However, just in case the ballot does not take place – which I’m sure it will – the list of requisition supporters will temporarily stay on my computer. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many, many members who expressed their support for pursuing this issue – let’s hope our views are reflected in the ballot result !!