British Athletics is determined to stage its annual indoor championships this winter plus two Diamond League events next summer despite the coronavirus wreaking havoc with the fixtures calendar.
Joanna Coates, the governing body’s new chief executive, has confirmed the indoor championships will take place in the new year thanks largely to a £394,000 grant from the UK Sport business continuity fund.
“We were very fortunate,” says Coates. “We bid into the UK Sport business continuity fund and we were successful. We don’t know about the indoor grand prix yet, but certainly our indoor trials will definitely take place.”
In September, UK Sport gave 10 struggling sports £1.38 million between them. Athletics was not on the initial list, but this month has been added to those being helped and has been awarded funding.
“Huge thanks to UK Sport,” says Coates. “Even if we don’t sell a ticket (at the indoor championships) we can still put that event on, which is fantastic news for the sport.
“Athletes are desperate for that and because we know it’s not going to place any financial burden on the organisation and UK Sport have backed us, we’ll definitely have a national indoor trials.
“To not have that would have been a disaster for the athletes,” adds Coates. “If it’s not on TV and we can’t sell a ticket, that’s disappointing. But it means the athletes get some competition. And I imagine we would try and find a way of streaming it anyway. We absolutely wanted that indoor competition to take place.”
The event, which was held in Glasgow in February this year, will act as a trial for the European Indoor Championships, in Torun, Poland, scheduled for March 5-7 and potentially the World Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China, from March 19-21.
Those international events are not guaranteed to take place, though. Already this winter the European and world cross country championships in Ireland and Australia respectively have been postponed. Domestic cross-country leagues have been cancelled en masse and the only British Athletics Cross Challenge meeting not to be cancelled so far is the series final in Prestwold Hall in February.
The English Cross Country Relays in Mansfield were also called off although the English Cross Country Association is hoping to rearrange the championships for 2021 in Mansfield in addition to still staging its historic ‘National’, which is due to take place at Parliament Hill in London.
Other events like the World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia and Virgin Money London Marathon were successfully staged, though. The British Olympic marathon trials are also set to go ahead in London in March.
It now looks like the national indoor championships will join the list of corona-proof events although not surprisingly British Athletics are making plans based on there not being any spectators.
In addition, the governing body is keen to stage the Diamond League meetings in London and Gateshead next summer, but unlike the indoor championships they will be difficult to justify minus fans.
“We can’t set anything in stone because of Covid,” says Coates. “In July we really want to put the London one on (Anniversary Games) and everything we are hearing, we should be able to. If anything happens and it means we can’t sell tickets for Gateshead, we cannot take a financial loss on that.
“We’ve said to the Diamond League to keep those two there (on the calendar) but they absolutely know we cannot take major losses. UK Athletics have been losing money the last few years. I want to get to a cost-neutral position at the very worst. If running an event like that will put us in a poorer financial position, we will not do it. However if a broadcaster desperately wants it and they will pay us money then of course we will do it.”
If they go ahead, will Coates have the staff to stage the events given the wave of redundancies sweeping through the governing body? “I have no concerns that when that goes ahead we’ll have the right people to put that on,” says Coates.
More than ever, the British televised events need the country’s top athletes to support them. A number of big names missed the British Championships in Manchester last month but Coates says: “I’m having lengthy conversations with athlete agents and athlete managers about them supporting us as much as we support them.”