UKA under attack from the AAA

The oldest athletics governing body in the world, with a history that dates back to 1880, launches a scathing attack on UKA

DE VOS,NIELS (Mark Shearman)

The Amateur Athletic Association has criticised the bonus received by UK Athletics chief executive Niels de Vos and accused the federation of losing sight of grassroots.

UKA’s accounts for the year up to March 2013 show its highest-paid director, De Vos, received a sizeable bonus of up to £91,000 during the 2012-13 tax year. He was paid £254,994 by the federation. This compared to £164,326 for 2012-13.

The publicly available financial statement said directors’ payments increased due to a “crystallisation of a long-term incentive plan” and also claimed a success for the British team in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Criticism on message boards and Twitter followed the publication of an online expose by Gwenda Ward, an outspoken coach, Olympian and former member of the IAAF Women’s Committee.

Now the world’s first national association for athletics – which was set up in 1880 and includes some of the most distinguished athletics administrators in the sport’s history – has added its views as one of the most influential bodies in the history of the sport.

Response from the Amateur Athletic Association to the bonus given to the CEO of British Athletics:

One of the objects for which the Amateur Athletic Association is established is “to look after the interests of active athletes and to act as the conscience of the sport of athletics in England.” As the oldest established national athletic organisation who has as its members any club or organisation affiliated to England Athletics, the Association’s board feel that on behalf of our members we should make a meaningful contribution to the furore around the recently awarded ‘bonus’ to Mr De Vos, the chief executive of British Athletics.

By its constitution British Athletics is in effect a very large private company and therefore cannot be made by the rest of the sport to do anything it chooses not to do. It would be interesting to know who decides on the remuneration and salaries for the directors. Is it UK Sport who appear to fund an unelected, expensive and ineffective quango that is gifted control over public monies?

It has been pointed out in many commentaries that the bonus was agreed four years ago as a reward for staying in post as CEO for the required length of time or as put by British Athletics ‘a crystallisation of a long term incentive plan’. Thus we can surmise that it is not performance related. This must be obvious to the grassroots members of the sport as it is generally acknowledged by those involved in the ‘volunteer’ or ‘amateur’ running of the sport as distinct from those who are ‘professional’ in name that the performance of the governing body over the last four years has not been of the highest order. Dissatisfaction is shown in most aspects of the sport. There have been increases in registration fees, reductions in funds available for competition, coaching and development at a time when the governing body’s wages bill, particularly for the directors, has doubled in those four years and has increased by eightfold over a twelve year period.

The overall triumph of the Great Britain team at the London Olympic Games was in contrast to the woeful performance by the GB athletics team, a fact that was confirmed by the resignation of the head coach, Charles van Commenee, and quoted by the chief executive himself in a reported lecture in Oxford. The fact that Mr Van Commenee’s successor lasted less than a year and the number of senior event coaches who also left the organisation following the Olympics seems to indicate a lack of management skills by the top of the organisation.

How can an organisation charged with being responsible for athletics in Britain make such an unpopular decision to “reward” its CEO at a time when numbers of serious athletes, young and old, are declining and numbers of officials and coaches are also declining due to the increasing cost of qualification to participate? They seem to be more interested in financial reward than in the interests of the sport.

British Athletics will point to the statistics that show two million participants in the sport while not acknowledging that 95% of these are recreational runners but as numbers are the yardstick by which the sport receives taxpayer’s money this is overlooked. We are not against the organisation of the sport being brought into the 21st century. For many years athletics has been seen as a cheap participation sport especially when compared to the cost of many other such popular sports. For runners it can be but for the track and field clubs and their members it is becoming increasingly expensive with the costs of local authority facilities and travel significantly rising. Increasingly the heavy hand of the UK governing body is causing more and more angst for those at the grassroots. The unnecessary interference in the competition programme in the South of England in 2012 is just one example of British Athletics’ ‘Big Brother’ mentality over control.

British Athletics biggest failure in our eyes is its failure to find a replacement sponsor for the national Sportshall programme for under-13 and under-15 young athletes. This programme has been going for many years and quite a number of our international champions have commenced their athletic careers in Sportshall. It has over 1,500,000 youngsters in clubs and schools taking part each year and for 400,000 it is their first introduction to athletics. Having found a sponsor for its flagship events in Sainsbury’s other previously sponsored events, such as Sportshall have suffered. Sponsorship whether by commercial concerns or income from television should be used for the benefit of the whole sport not just put into flagship international events which from a practical point of view do nothing or little towards the development of the sport below elite level.

England Athletics, whose funding comes from UK Sport via British Athletics, has suffered by the decrease in funding and has had to reduce its funding of club development by 21%, competition by 16% and coaching by 4%. This has in effect narrowed the so called pathway from club level to national level which has always been the primary basis of the development aspect of the sport for both athletes and officials. Do you remember the ‘Fun to Fulfilment’ logo from yesteryear? Conveniently forgotten! The decrease in competition funding is causing much consternation with the England Areas who depend on competition grant funding from England Athletics to promote the wide range of competition in all age groups demanded by England Athletics while not being allowed to source their own funding from outside the sport.

It would be childish to demand a restructuring of the sport as it has undergone a number of restructures in the last few years. The Foster Report was supposed to be the blueprint for the future of the sport, and had it been followed to the letter it may have succeeded but subsequent tinkering by chief executives and chairmen of British Athletics (aka UK Athletics) and certain members of UK Sport over the last ten years have left only a shadow of the original concept. The administration of athletics in this country from its formation in 1880 to the formation of UK Athletics in 1997 had a great deal of democracy in its decision making. There was a modicum of democracy within the sport recommended in the Foster Report but this has been eroded to just lip service at UK level. The best the grassroots can expect these days are ‘consultation meetings’ which are really information meetings as all decisions within the sport are now regarded as a “fait accompli”. An example of this is the recent changes to the Rules of Competition which appeared to be suddenly announced without any consultation with those having to administer them.

All we can ask is that the British Athletics hierarchy in the Ivory Tower at Alexander Stadium remember that they are there to assist the running of the whole of the sport. For athletics to flourish there must be a better balance in the allocation of resources and action must be taken urgently to bolster the funds which have been made available to England Athletics for development, competition and coaching at club level. They appear to have lost sight of the fact that the grassroots people in the sport are the sport and not just customers of what appears to be a quango for athletics that has to hit key performance indicators in order to retain ever decreasing government funding.

Chris Carter
Amateur Athletic Association

For and on behalf of the AAA Board:

Walter Nicholls, Hon. Secretary
Martin Etchells, Treasurer
George Bunner MBE, Events Director
Frances Ratchford, Communications
Richard Float, Financial Advisor
Geoff Durbin, Midland Counties AA
Brian Heywood, Northern Athletics
John Gebbels, South of England AA
John How, English Road Running Association
Ian Byett, English Cross Country Association

» The Niels de Vos bonus was the subject of a news focus feature in the January 9 issue of AW which is available here or digitally here

4 Responses to “UKA under attack from the AAA”

  1. Jerry Odlin says:

    Hard hitting and well put. My club, London Heathside, is a supporter of England Athletics (all our members are registered with the governing body), in particular the people behind the London Region, along with many of the front line staff at UKA, have worked tirelessly for the benefit of the clubs and should be applauded for their efforts. Before EA was formed such support was virtually non existant. However we need organisations, like the AAA, to stand up to obvious abuses of power, and demand a more democratic say in the running of our sport. It's about time the AAA commented rather than leaving it to the obscure rants you see from other so called alternative NGB's.

    It's a pity that AW doesn't follow a similar hard hitting and questioning line although I guess that the possibility of losing British Athletics advertising support would colour your ability to do so.

  2. Steven Jones says:

    Niels De Vos does deserve this bonus. In fact he has actually saved UKA massive amounts of money in recent years with a few nifty moves, the brightest move was ending the finders' fee given to Alan Pascoe and associates. When a finder allegedly receives 33% of the total amount of sponsorship coming into the sport BEFORE the federation and any athletes, then you have to ask serious questions about how business was done prior to De Vos.

    • @alunpg says:

      Good point! But here is where UKA has failed to be a bit more sensitve to the feelings of athletes & clubs, whose funds have been cut (or rather about to be cut). It might have been wiser to have paid the "bonus" over a period of 3 years, assuming Mr De Vos will be staying that long.
      As to the "finders" how much did that really cost the sport & how much more difficult is it to get new sponsers because of this change? Maybe cutting the reward to 20-25% (AFAIK that's the range most sports managers recieve for their services) might have been the better choice…………

  3. Marts says:

    This shows what an out of touch organisation the AAA has become. The childish language, such as "Ivory Tower", coupled with dismissing 95% of participants as "recreational runners", and bemoaning a drop in "serious athletes" illustrates this. If I were to be minded to revert to childish language myself then I would describe this as, a mad rant by an irrelevant bunch of old farts in blazers.

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