A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE ORGANISATION OF UK (AND SURREY) ATHLETICS
Athletics in the UK is organised on a ‘federal’ basis. At the top of the tree is UK Athletics (which was set up in 1999, after the previous British Athletics Federation had become insolvent). It organises annual track & field championships, and selects UK teams for the World Championships, etc. It also writes the UK athletics rulebook. It has four constituent organisations, covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
‘England Athletics’ has succeeded the Amateur Athletic Association as the body responsible for athletics in England. It selects England teams for the Commonwealth Games and other international matches, and organises annual championships for Under-23s, Under-20s and Under-17s. ‘England Athletics’ has recently introduced a registration scheme, partly to raise funds, and partly to prevent athletes from changing clubs without official sanction. (Under UKA rules, all athletes wishing to change clubs must register their change of clubs with their area association. In an attempt to deter ‘poaching’ of athletes by rich clubs, athletes whose change of club is not caused by a change of residence are not normally allowed to represent their new club until six months after leaving their previous club.)
SURREY COUNTY ATHLETICS ASSOCIATION
Under UKA rules, clubs are also required to affiliate to their county association. For this purpose, athletics does not recognise the boundary changes that politicians have imposed in the last 150 years: there is no such county association as ‘London’, and Croydon is deemed to be part of Surrey. The Surrey Athletics Association organise annual track & field and cross-country championships, and also recognise certain road races as county championships (eg the Dorking 10 and the Dysart 10K are the Surrey championships). It also organises the annual Surrey Road League.
The English Cross-Country Association organises the ‘National’ Cross-Country Championships (which Striders usually compete in, although the 2007 championships were in Sunderland, so that we did not compete). Clubs are only allowed to enter the National Cross-Country Championships if they have entered a team in their regional cross-country championships. For us, this is the Southern Cross-Country Championship, which is organised by the South of England Athletic Association. The SEAA also organise annual track & field championships.
For specific ‘age-groups’, there is also the English Schools Athletics Association (which organises annual track & field and cross-country championships) and the British Masters Athletics Federation, which organises various championship events in five-year age bands for men and women aged 35 or over.
One other association which several Surrey clubs (including Striders) are affiliated to is the South of the Thames Cross-Country Association, which was formed in the late 19th century. It organises two annual races. Its main (or senior) championships are normally held in December, and it also hosts a five-mile inter-club race in November. Originally, this was described as a ‘junior’ championship, but the title was highly misleading because the word ‘junior’ normally means an athlete aged under 20, whereas the STCCA ‘junior’ championships were restricted to athletes who had not previously placed in the first 50 in the STCCA senior championship, or in the first 100 in the Southern or National Championships, or been part of a winning team in the STCCA senior championship. Most of these restrictions have recently been dropped, and the race is officially now called an ‘inter-club’ race, but some older runners still refer to it as a ‘junior’ race. Until the 1960s, the STCCA championship was regarded as quite a prestigious event, but the emergence of the county leagues (see below) has seen it decline in status, and many eligible clubs don’t bother to compete.
Surrey clubs compete in a number of leagues. The Surrey Cross-Country League was formed in 1962. It now comprises four divisions of 9 clubs, and has four races each winter (for men only). Striders joined in 1986 and have spent most of our time in Division 3, but are now in Division 2. We achieved our best ever position (3rd in Division 2) in 2003. There is an equivalent league for women, the Surrey Ladies Cross-Country League, which was formed in the late 1970s. It also has four races each winter, but has just two divisions, and unlike the men, both divisions race at the same venue. We have twice won promotion to Division One, but on each occasion we were quickly relegated again, and are currently back in Division 2. In 2007 we looked to be set for promotion with one match to go, but only fielded four runners in the final match and therefore stayed in Division 2.
The East Surrey League was formed in the 1930s. It currently organises four events each year: a cross-country relay, a cross-country race, a road relay and a road race. It currently has nine affiliated clubs. Striders won this League for the first time in 2003.
The Surrey Road League was formed in about 1990. It is organised by the Surrey County Athletic Association, and has five races each summer, ranging from 5K to 10 miles.
On the track, the most prestigious league is the British Athletics League, which was formed in 1969 and caters for men only: it has 32 teams, divided into 4 divisions of 8 clubs. Of our local clubs, Herne Hill andKingston are both currently members, while Croydon Harriers were members from 1985 to 1994, when they were relegated. There is an equivalent league for women, called the UK Women’s Athletics League. For younger athletes, there is a National Junior League (for both sexes, aged 17-19) and a National Young Athletes League (for both sexes, aged 11-16).
Below the British League is the Southern Athletics League, which was also formed in 1969 and is divided into four divisions: the top two divisions each comprise 25 clubs, while the lower two divisions are regionalised. Striders have never entered this, but several Striders have competed as second-claim members for Holland Sports, who are based in Oxted and are currently in Division Four South: other Striders have competed in higher divisions for Croydon Harriers or Hercules-Wimbledon. Again, this is for men only and there is a separate league for women, the Southern Women’s Athletics League, which includes a number of events for Under-15s as well as a full range of events for seniors.
Also on the track is a local league called the Rosenheim League, which was formed in 1964 and has six matches each year on Wednesday evenings. It has two divisions: Striders entered the ‘eastern’ division in 2005. The other clubs in the division are Croydon Harriers, Herne Hill, Hercules-Wimbledon, Serpentine and South London Harriers.
For athletes aged 35 and over, there is a separate league called the Southern Veterans League. This is divided into several divisions: Striders joined in 1996, and compete in a division of seven clubs: the others areKingston, Epsom, Croydon Harriers, Dorking, Sutton and Redhill. There are four matches each summer, usually on Monday evenings.