UK Athletics want to select smaller teams for global championships but their policy flies in the face of popular opinion
About 20 years ago I knew an ambitious British runner whose main goal was to run in the World Cross Country Championships. He realised the ceiling of his talent was to squeeze into the squad and after years of gruelling training he eventually managed it in his early 30s by qualifying for a couple of global events.
Ultimately he finished outside the top 60 and several minutes behind the winner, but he achieved his dream and is now able to tell his grandchildren that he ran for Great Britain at the World Cross. As my friend and many other proud international athletes over the years will agree, these championships are not all about winning medals.
The problem is, the medals mentality is dominating UK Athletics’ selection strategy right now. Jack Buckner, the governing body’s new chief executive, said recently: “There will be a bit of a shift in our selection philosophy which is going to be quite hard in some ways. We will be moving towards a philosophy more about performance. It will have a slightly sharper edge. You need to really focus on the big hitters. We could have a list of six to 10 names and we need to be all over them. We need to identify where the medals are coming from and have the right resources in place.”
Buckner has made a positive start to his role at UKA but in this case he appears to have misjudged the mood of the people. An AW poll this week asked if UKA should send smaller elite teams of probable finalists and potential medallists to global championships? Or should they field as big a squad as possible to maximise development opportunities? At last count 71.8% want squads that are “as big as possible” with only 3.3% preferring “small select squads” and 24.9% choosing “somewhere in between”.
Athletes and fans have gone further than a mere click of the keyboard to vote too. Some have taken to social media to voice their concern. Established GB internationals claim the policy is driven by UKA’s cash-strapped position – although the governing body denies this – whereas others have made jibes about the number of support staff soon out-numbering the actual competitors.
Katharine Merry went to the 1993 World Championships as a teenager before going on to win Olympic 400m bronze in Sydney seven years later. She says she would not qualify for that World Champs with the current selection policy and…
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