UK Athletics Endurance Fixtures Conference

The UK Athletics Endurance Fixtures Conference at Trafford AC, Manchester,
on Saturday 20 April set out to identify the problems faced by distance
runners and to examine possible solutions.

And the man who called the conference, UK Athletics Head of Endurance
Competition Bryan SMITH, said afterwards: "The impression I got from the
people who attended was that it was worthwhile. It was a consultation
process in order that the Policy and Support Teams (PSTs) at UK Athletics
would know what the athletes, administrators and grassroots want from the
sport.

"We were not concerned with problems as such. We were there to find
solutions and I think there was a pretty general consensus that anything is
surmountable if there is the will. Furthermore, we have to find the will
for the benefit of the athletes in the UK. We are athlete-centred. We are
not here for the administrators and team managers, but to provide what the
athletes want."

Among the subjects discussed were:

- Arranging the fixture list two years in advance. This might entail having
Fixtures Conferences on a regular basis.

- A questionnaire to find out what endurance runners really want.
Conference decided to ask PSTs to compose pertinent questions and determine
how and where the athletes should be approached.

- Avoiding clashes, particularly inter-disciplinary clashes. For example,
there was general agreement that fixtures were devalued when - as happens
on Saturday 27 April - the AAA of England National Road Relays are held at
the same time as the opening round of track and field matches in the
Southern League. Some clubs that would be among the favourites to win
medals are not contesting the women's six-stage road relay; and Smith said:
"We have to acknowledge that some clubs have only got six to eight
endurance runners among their women members and have to make decisions as
to where their runners should go. While the runners themselves may want to
go to the Relay, Team Managers and other athletes might want them at the
track and field meeting. They should not have to make that kind of choice."

- The question of whether there should be amalgamation of County Schools
Championships and County AAA Championships. Delegates felt the concept
should be explored in view of the small numbers of competitors in many
events, though they appreciated one major difficulty that would have to be
overcome would be the disparity in age-group regulations.

- Whether the sport is providing the appropriate level of competition.
Smith explained: "Say we have different grades of athletes - A who is
international standard, B who is aspiring to international standard, C who
is probably county standard, D who is probably Joe and Jo Jogger. A and B
would be concerned with Reebok Cross Challenge and track and field grand
prix meetings. C and D could do something else on that day. The London
Marathon caters for A, B, C and D but you cannot have a track and field
meeting that caters for everybody. So the discussion went into whether
different meetings and different leagues could be graded."

- Standards in leagues were also discussed. Much comment was made about the
insistence that every club finds two competitors for every event. It was
pointed out that the Northern Ireland League has, in effect, open meetings
at which clubs can enter as many or as few as it wishes in each event and
the best two score points. It was also pointed out that a British Athletics
League 800m last summer had a competitor who scored a point by clocking
2:17 while a British Milers' Club F-race was won in 1:53. The athletes are
spotting where they want to go, and it seems to be somewhere where they can
improve their personal best times. If that is what athletes want, that is
what athletics should be providing.

- Arranging County and Territorial Championships at the right time of year
for the athletes they attract. They were placed in May and June
respectively 40 and 50 years ago when they attracted athletes who were
progressing to National Championships and major international events
beyond. That is no longer the case, with the result that the athletes who
contest County and Territorial Championships have no major events to
prepare for during the height of the season when they are at their fittest.
What do they do in July and August? Where does athletics want its peaks for
the various grades of athletes?

"There was a lot of lateral thinking," Smith reports. "It was particularly
pleasing to note that people came to the Conference not with their own
little flag to wave. Nobody said, 'This is my event, I've always had it on
that day, and I'm not moving.' Everyone was asking what is best for the
athlete and how do we arrange it for the future.

"The report on the Conference will now go to all the PSTs and it is hoped
we can all work together to give the athletes what they want."

The Conference could hardly have been called by a man better suited to the
task of changing long-held attitudes. Bryan Smith and his wife Joyce - who
probably did more than any other couple to enhance women's endurance
running over the years - were recently party to the decision to disband the
Southern Women's Cross Country League. They had been prime movers in its
creation in 1964, when there were only four or five cross-country meetings
for women and there was a great need to increase opportunities. "It was
going to be called the Great London Women's League but then clubs from
further afield showed an interest," he recalls. "But in recent years,
because of the advent of local leagues, athletes no longer have to travel
100 miles for competition.

"We had out-lived our purpose - but we had set the model for the future.
And that was pretty much the philosophy of the Conference - a general
acceptance that we have got to look at what modern society wants. And
provide it."

- An Official Report of the UK Athletics Endurance Fixtures Conference is
being compiled and will be available soon.