Neil Featherby: Tough times for athletics amid recovery from Covid-19

Professional triathlete Joe Skipper during a recent training track race at the UEA Sportspark.Pictur

Professional triathlete Joe Skipper during a recent training track race at the UEA Sportspark.Picture:Ben Meen - Credit: Ben Meen

Whilst I have mentioned in my last couple of columns about the tentative return to competitive athletics again here in Norfolk, it appears that it is not just the recent Covid-19 pandemic which is the only problem surrounding local athletics, particularly track and field competition.

Clive Poyner, chair of Athletics Norfolk Picture Submitted

Clive Poyner, chair of Athletics Norfolk Picture Submitted - Credit: Submitted

Talking to Athletics Norfolk chair Clive Poyner earlier this week, he was telling me that whilst it has always been difficult finding volunteers to help run the sport (more so track and field), going forward it could turn out to be even more of a problem. If so, he fears for the survival of athletics.

“Through my role as chair of the East Region Council, I have sat in many zoom meetings recently discussing the approach to the pandemic and the return to competition whereby in every meeting we hear of coaches and officials not returning,” he said.

“Some have decided to retire and others are seeking opportunities elsewhere - making things look rather bleak.

“Recently we asked for nominations to join the team at Athletics Norfolk as part of the virtual AGM, but nobody came forward and whilst we have a core group of six people who have been together for a number of years, it is good practice to always look to add new team members if just for sustainability.”

It was quite clear when talking to Clive that he really is so very devoted to Norfolk county athletics hence some of his worries. Apparently, 100,000 fewer athletes have registered with their clubs nationally and subsequently with the NGB (National Governing Body) and when you consider that there are now more people out there exercising and of course running, I suppose you could ask why is this?

Needless to say lockdown has prevented all the usual club nights and activities during the last few months, but I’m still surprised as for just about every runner I know, they value their clubs and indeed the future of them and the sport very highly. Going forward, I’m sure that once we see some form of normality again, then there will be a boost to club membership - or at least I hope there will be.

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However, in the meantime I can certainly understand Clive’s fears. He said clubs and Athletics Norfolk need more starters, timekeepers, track judges, field officials and coaches especially those in the more technical events such as throws, jumps and hurdles.

With regards to coaching, this has also been made more difficult due to the hours and time which has to be put in, with the restriction on current numbers at each session.

Because of the turnover of new parents in and out of the sport each year when their child stops competing, clubs across the county end up needing approximately 10 new timekeepers, 10 new track judges and 15 new field officials. A shadow treasurer and resources officer is also needed for what is hopefully going to be the Norfolk Sportshall 2020/21 season.

“There is a core group of just 20 officials who have been with the sport for 10 years or more and to put on a reasonable track and field match across admin and officials, you need around 50 such people,” added Clive.

“Even for the August 15th meet (behind closed doors), the list of dos, don’ts and requirements are pretty extensive and this is just for the 84 athletes who will be competing. Nevertheless and as always we will of course make it work, but going forward the more volunteers we have the more efficient it becomes for everyone involved.”

Clive and all those other stalwarts of athletics in Norfolk, really are dedicated to the cause and certainly their roles in our sport should never be taken for granted.

With regards to anyone who would like to volunteer, Athletics Norfolk will most certainly organise the courses with the help from most of the clubs. England Athletics are also moving towards online course options which will hopefully further help on this front.

Talking of track and field athletics, for those who might be interested, on the back of a recent training event with local superstar triathlete Joe Skipper, we are now organising a series of graded fun training races during August and early September over 3,000 metres tonight, then 1,500 metres on August 21, 800 metres on August 28 and finally 5,000 metres on September 4.

Needless to say numbers will be very limited with social guidelines being followed, but for anyone interested, then please do contact either myself or Joe via Facebook private messenger.

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