Birchfield Harriers team manager Dave Lawrence has criticised UK Athletics for ignoring the country’s proud club structure and fears the system that has produced so many outstanding athletes is in danger of going into decline.
Lawrence spoke out after his Stags team finished sixth in last weekend’s British Athletics League Premiership match at Eton having been hit hard by withdrawals and absences because of clashing fixtures.
In several events Birchfield, one of the biggest names in domestic athletics, were unable to field a full team and even where they were Lawrence was forced to rely on untried youngsters and under-prepared regulars just to make up the numbers.
Things were especially bad in the 400 metres, normally one of Harriers’ strongest events, as they could not even find an athlete to compete in the B race with five of their team unavailable.
As a result Birchfield trailed winners Newham and Essex Beagles by 93 points and are now nearly 150 behind in the league standings with little prospect on winning the title with just two of the four matches remaining and further disruption likely because of the Olympic Games.
That has prompted an exasperated Lawrence to call for change in the calendar and greater priority given to the pinnacle of the domestic sport.
“We really need to change from this four fixture format, they really need to look at it now and maybe go down to three but have them on weekends that are sacrosanct just to the league matches,” Lawrence said. “There has to be nothing else involved and UK Athletics need to realise how worthy these weekends are.
“If for some reason the club structure went down the pan UKA would be left without a product because while they look at the top end of the sport they take for granted what’s underneath.
“To be fair it’s not only UKA it’s England Athletics who come up with all these internationals that might be good but they are buggering up the club system who cannot attract a sponsor because they can’t be sure to have their best athletes.
“If we had a front-line sponsor they would have every right to expect something for their money – like the big names competing.
“So if you can’t get your best people entering – and I mean no disrespect to the people we took at the weekend – sponsors are not likely to be interested.”
Lawrence certainly had to do without his leading names. British champion 400m hurdler Dale Garland had to pull out ahead of the trials, one lappers Jordan McGrath and Robert Davis are at the World Junior Championships in Poland, two of his leading throwers were at an international in Croatia and several of his squad opted to rest injuries ahead of this weekend’s Olympic Trials which start at the Alexander Stadium on Friday.
“The whole thing needs looking at and I sincerely hope someone does. It’s a question of whether anyone has the foresight. In the current structure it seems they don’t. Our club system used to be the best in Europe but it doesn’t feel that way any more.”
That said there were some promising performances. Beijing hopeful Tom Parsons defied the wind to win the high jump with a respectable 2.25m, Alex Van Der Merwe took the javelin and Kenyan Zac Kilharah won the 5,000m and finished second in the 3k Steeplechase. Birchfield’s women fared one place better off in finishing fifth in the UK Women’s League meeting in Manchester.
Meanwhile McGrath begins his challenge for a world medal in Bydgoszcz today in the 400m heats. Birchfield team-mate Edirin Okoro goes in the 110m hurdles on Friday looking for a place in Sunday’s final and Meghan Beesley goes over the 400m hurdles on Wednesday, half an hour after training partner, Tamworth’s Nathan Woodward, begins his campaign.