SHOULD CLUBS JOIN THE ASSOCIATION OF RUNNING CLUBS (ARC)? – A PERSONAL VIEW BY ONE OF OUR MEMBERS
By now all
My intention is to lay out the key issues in the hope that we can start having an informed debate leading to an agreed policy across all of the clubs in the local area. Clearly, no club will want to be the only one to affiliate to the ARC – if it is going to be a workable solution, a good proportion of clubs must move together.
I feel I should make it clear that this document represents my own personal assessment. However, I have reached this position through an objective examination of the facts and I know that many people in our sport are equally concerned with recent events and for the same reasons!
WHY HAS THE ARC BEEN FORMED?
The ARC has been formed as a response to
the recent reorganisation of athletics in line with the Foster Report, with a
new body, England Athletics (EA), taking over governance of the sport in
1. Although there was “consultation” with clubs, the new structure was forced upon us by UK Athletics (UKA) and Sport England – legacy funding from the government was made conditional upon acceptance of the new structure. Also, although there was a poll of clubs, it was made clear that the restructuring would go ahead anyway, regardless of the views of clubs. Attempts were also made to wind up the English AAA against the terms of its own constitution, thus ending the last vestiges of democracy in English athletics.
2. The new body (EA) represents yet another layer of costly bureaucracy. UKA has already spent around £100 million since 1997 – most of this has been spent on elite professional athletes and very little money has found its way to the grass roots of the sport. The worry is that EA too may have little to offer to the grass roots except more paperwork and more costs. Basically, the entire “raison d’etre” of EA runs counter to the true (and fairly basic) needs of ordinary running clubs and their members.
EA has already instigated a
national membership scheme, which will cost £3 per athlete this year, rising to
£5 in 2008. However, the real concern is that when government funding runs out,
EA will inevitably have to make up the shortfall with a substantial increase in
the membership fees. Annual fees of £20 per year are already a reality in
Concerns are also being
expressed that EA intends to use the new membership scheme to collect far more
information about individual athletes than has previously been required. This
may lead to EA bypassing the clubs altogether, possibly undermining the club
structure which has supported the sport so successfully in the past (and
incidentally still works very well in countries such as the
5. Although there has been some attempt to give athletes a voice in the new EA structure, this does not amount to true accountability or democracy. The bottom line is that it will be highly paid, unelected executives who will ultimately decide what athletes pay into the membership scheme and how the money is spent. Critically, there are not sufficient athletes’ representatives on the UK Members Council for them to have a power of veto over excessive membership fees and spending. Thus UKA and EA ultimately have a “blank cheque”!
UKA recently set up a new initiative, the “Road Running Leadership Group”. Following the formation of the ARC, an announcement was made that the RRLG would be able to plough money gained from road running back into the sport. I understand this will include permit fees and unattached levies paid. The RRLG has now set up “workstreams” in the following areas:
To oversee the transition from the existing system of road running to a new system.
The administration of road running.
The marketing of road running.
Improving overall standards.
It is obviously too early to say what impact, if any, these initiatives will have on local road races organised by individual clubs, although it is worth noting that it is the organisers of the London Marathon and Great North Run, not small local races, who have been seconded onto the RRLG! Also, we have already seen a requirement for all officials and marshals to be registered and there is now talk of “training” of officials – clubs will clearly have their own views about whether this is a necessary evil in addition to the duty of care they already have to ensure the safety of runners!
If the RRLG delivers, it will represent the reinvestment of a significant chunk of what road running clubs currently pay to EA (assuming that they organise road races). This is fine as long as it brings about genuine benefits to clubs and individual runners. However, it does not cover cross-country, trail and fell races. Also, the amount of money to be spent on road running will still be very small in comparison to that spent by UKA on initiatives which have no relevance at all to most clubs. If membership fees paid to EA rise in the coming years, recreational runners will certainly become the main net “contributors” to Athletics as a whole.
MORE ABOUT THE ASSOCIATION OF RUNNING CLUBS
The ARC was formed by the Association of GB Athletics Clubs (ABAC) on the recommendation of its Road Running Sub-Committee (although the ARC is now a separate company). I am not clear as to the timing of this, although I would guess that they have moved at this stage so that they can offer an alternative to clubs affiliating to the EA membership scheme for the first time.
against the ABAC are that it is predominantly made up of southern clubs and
that they are implacably opposed to the modernisation of Athletics. It is
certainly true that the founder members of the ABAC are all based in the South
(for historical reasons, I think) and the majority of member clubs are in the
Southern area. However, there are running clubs across the length and breadth
What the ARC is
offering is a streamlined and cost-effective governing body tailored to the
needs of clubs which have no track facilities – in other words, the majority of
ordinary running clubs in
However, to my mind the most important feature of the ARC is that its officials will all be elected by the member clubs, making the new body 100% accountable.
SHOULD CLUBS JOIN THE ARC?
Instinctively, I hope that clubs will support the ARC, as I believe it does represent a more sensible, realistic and cost-effective way forwards for ordinary running clubs. I also believe it is important for us to establish the principle that recreational runners should not be expected to provide financial support to the elite, professional end of athletics which is, in truth, a completely different sport (and ought to be self-funding).
However, there are some practical problems for clubs wanting to support the ARC. Clearly, any club which wants to participate in county, regional, area or national championships will have to affiliate to EA (although the ARC intend to stage their own championships in the longer term). Also, if the majority of local races are still permitted via EA, clubs will have to affiliate if they want their members to avoid paying the unattached levy.
The ARC appear confident that Southern clubs will support them and the “critical mass” should make the switch viable in this case. This is not necessarily the case in the North, although I would expect support for the ARC to increase as EA membership fees start to rise. Being practical, therefore, clubs which want to support the ARC may also have to affiliate to EA for the time being, with the associated extra fees.
However, the ARC have come up with a feature which will help a lot of clubs. Clubs which join the ARC and apply for race permits through the new body will keep 60% of the unattached levies. This means that for a club which organises a race that attracts say 200 unattached athletes, it would keep £240 of the £400 raised. For many clubs, this should more than cover the fees paid to the ARC. The ARC are also advising clubs to only register with EA those athletes who are likely to want to compete in championship races. This policy would also save on fees, but would clearly only work if the majority of clubs at a local level permitted their races with the ARC.
It is quite possible that widespread support for the ARC and hence reduced revenue to EA will force UKA to negotiate with the ARC in the longer term. Hence, ARC are advising clubs to hold back on any decision over affiliation to EA until September of this year to assess how things are developing (EA are giving clubs until then to pay their affiliation fees).
Northern clubs may have to affiliate to EA for the time being unless a good proportion of clubs agree to make the switch en masse. However, there are sound financial reasons why clubs which organise races should consider joining the ARC and apply to the new body for their permits.
In deciding whether not to join the ARC, clubs have to choose between either:
1. The UKA blueprint, which is derived from New Labour and EC thinking and is moving increasingly towards interference, procedures and initiatives driven from the centre (including all the associated administrative costs) and which benefits clubs very little.
2. The ARC approach, where the club remains the focus and costs are controlled.
It is clearly important for as many clubs as possible to meet and discuss a joint approach – whichever approach we choose, it is important that we act together.