What’s going on with British athletics?

A so far underwhelming world championships has seen team GB record its worst tally of success at the championships in over a decade; British athletics has let the public down.

Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah have carried the sport since 2012, and team GB has struggled to move on from *that* Golden night in London five years ago.

That night was special; special because Britain does not dominate a night like that in track and field; special because it was a home games.

However, it is the only real ‘go-to’ moment of success in recent British athletics. The mens 4×100 metre relay team won gold in Athens, 2004, the talents therefore clearly there; so, why can’t more individual success be repeated on the biggest stage?

The 2017 world championships have failed to change this running theme. Just one podium finish – so far – with Mo Farah winning gold in the 10,000 metres; could this, very depressingly, be Britain’s only medal on home soil?

The three musketeers carrying GB athletics are down to just one this championships with Ennis-Hill and Rutherford missing through retirement and injury, so it looks like Farah could be the hosts’ only success in 2017.

As fans of the sport, whilst also heavily funders of it through our best mate, Mr HMRC, the public have every right to feel aggrieved at a lack of success in it. The current captain of GB, Eilidh Doyle, has recently come out defending the state of athletics affairs and the lack of success it is delivering:

“The performances have been amazing and people have just missed out. We need to look at the bigger picture – I think the team is doing really well as a whole.”

‘Just missed out’ tells the whole story. Is that something to applaud and smile about? ‘Ah, good effort, maybe next time will be your year’. The Americans certainly wouldn’t accept such a defeatist attitude; perhaps we could do with some infamous advice from Ricky Bobby:

“If you ain’t first, you’re last”.

The nature of the beast is that sport is a results business. You’re judged on your success, and right now, the success isn’t there in athletics; it’s costing us money which could be spent on increasing general activity levels amongst the public – activity levels where the average Briton takes part in less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week. Appalling.

Although Rio 2016 was a blinding success for Britain, each medal, gold, sliver and bronze – at an average – cost £4.1 million. This is not to knock the efforts of British athletes, which at face value seems a lot, but once broken down to every person in the country is virtually the cost of one stop on the tube.

But, the problem for athletics is that it is a large hemorrhage of this amount of money, and it’s in danger of being drastically left in the wake of other British sports.

Graph: Guardian – Data: UK Sport


The sport is receiving a drastic amount more money than others, yet is failing to reward this funding with success. Of course, it is well documented, and rightly so, that some athletes do not receive the necessary funding to be competitive as distribution is viewed with an elitist approach.

But, that elitist approach is still failing to deliver the goods at the major events. Ennis-Hill is out of the scene, Farah is soon to join the heptathlete, and Rutherford’s injuries are becoming all too frequent. The trio have won eight of the last 13 Olympic medals for GB – they’ve papered over all the cracks, and it’s now showing at these home world championships.

The approaching era needs new individuals to to take responsibly, and the captain of the team has to accept that ‘nearly’ podium finishes are not good enough.

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