Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Another week at the athletics coalface

A day late again. Tsk. Tsk.

On Saturday, Lesley and I drove up to Eton for the ABAC meeting. Well - it's another world. Having been visiting mother in Oundle for a number of years I'd got used to the way public schools take over small towns, put up enormously impressive buildings all over the place and fill the streets with well-fed kids at every change of lessons.

But Eton is something else entirely..... The whole place - well, the bit we drove through, anyway - appears to have been put up in the 16somethings, and the games fields need to be measured not in acres but in square miles! And each fresh bit is labelled with a name that has obviously not changed since the Civil War! The atheletics facility is ENORMOUS.  A fairly standard track, with an indoor training hall with 80m sprint. Upstairs the room dedicated to Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow AC would hold two of the YOSC bar areas. There used to be another conference room alongside, but that is now a gym and fitness suite.

But the meeting brought us back to athletics as we know it. Admittedly, we clashed with the rearranged Southern Area Cross Country Champs, but five elderly gents, plus the two of us hardly looks like a vibrant future for the sport. Except that two of the elderly gents were a pair of the sparkiest guys I've come across in a long while. Dennis Daly could well be referred to as Dennis the Menace at England Athletics. He is plainly outraged by what is happening to the sport and will spare no effort to bring the NGO to account. And he does it with such an engaging sense of humour that you can't help warming to him.

The president of ABAC is Bill Laws, and I suspect that there isn't anyone in the country who knows more about the sport and the way it is run. Add to them a guy who used to be the Chairman of the British Athletic League and you can tell that Lesley and I were out playing with the big boys.

The longest discussion was about the changes to the affiliation fee that England Athletics are bringing in with the bare minimum of consultation. The difficulties that are going to build up over the collection of these fees are so complex that I can't see EA getting them sorted any time soon. Many clubs in the country are refusing to collect the money from their members and simply tell them to register individually with EA if they want to. It's unclear how often, or when, competition providers are going to require team managers to register their athletes' numbers - or what will happen if they don't - so stand by for chaos.

In the north east, clubs are in open revolt. They have refused to go along with the YDL and started their own league. EA initially said they wouldn't issue permits for those matches but have had to back down.

It would all look more hopeful if EA had shown themselves in the slightest bit competent. But we all know what their track record is like.

Meanwhile, back at home, I've been putting together a preliminary proposal for the future of the network. But there are still so many questions that I don't have the answers to, so it's all terribly provisional and unsatisfactory. The main new thing that I would like the network to do is to sponsor nominated coaches and officials so that their progress in the sport can be developed in a meaningful sort of way. So far the England Athletics people have been supportive of the idea but it's different from what others have done.

I'm supposed to be having a meeting with Matt Foad later this week. But so far he hasn't said when this will take place. I'm meeting a small group of Avon people tomorrow to discuss all this so things are on the move. Thursday, Lesley and I are being taken out to lunch by a former student of mine. She is now a woman in her fifties and semi-retired from running the government's IT programme. She and her husband are delightful and we both look forward to the rare occasions when we can get together.

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As a student I worked in a hotel in Devon. We waiters worked in pairs, sharing a work station, and my partner was an Italian called Giorgio....