NEIL HUNTER reckons City of York Athletic Club’s new sponsorship deal with Benenden Health will underpin their goal to make York “a regional centre of excellence”.

The Huntington Stadium-based community club had been rocked last year by England Athletics’ decision, after the London Olympics, to double affiliation fees.

However, they are being boosted by the move later this year to a new track at the York Sports Village at Heslington East. And this new agreement with Benenden, which sees the York-based organisation become the club’s main sponsor for 2013, helps to secure their financial future – and means those rises in fees will not be passed on to athletes.

Club chairman Hunter said: “The club had financial pressure placed on it by England Athletics’ decision regarding affiliation fees, but we’re really keen on maintaining participation levels and we’ve decided to absorb those costs ourselves. This type of sponsorship means we can still encourage participation without those financial barriers.

“We’ll look to continue the work we do in the community, particularly in schools, and hopefully also host more athletics events at Huntington Stadium and, moving forward, at the new stadium.

“This (sponsorship) gives us a great chance to make sure when the new stadium opens there will be participation every single night of the week, with training and competition, and with a wide range of participants, not just elite athletes.”

City of York AC, who share Huntington Stadium with York City Knights rugby league club, currently offer five nights’ training a week and have more than 600 members of various ages and ability.

Neither Hunter nor Benenden – which already sponsors York City – would reveal how much the deal was worth, but Hunter said: “This year we will move into fantastic new facilities at the York Sports Village. This partnership with Benenden Health will enable us to improve accessibility to athletics in York and will support the club in delivering excellent coaching while continuing our essential work in the community.

“The club believes there should be no limits for York-based athletes and this fantastic support will underpin our goal to make York a regional centre of excellence.”

The sponsorship deal will see the athletics club’s flagship competition renamed as the Benenden Health Summer League, and new branded athletics kit introduced.

Paul Keenan, head of communications at Benenden, one of the UK’s leading mutual healthcare providers, said: “The strong community ethos of the club fits well with the mutual community values at the heart of Benenden Health and we are really proud to be able to become sponsor.

“We feel this is the perfect opportunity to invest in the local Olympic legacy and help to promote the health and wellbeing aspects of athletics in the York community.

“The club do amazing work out in the community and are actively working to make York become a regional centre of excellence for all athletes.

“We are looking to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the club and hope we can be a real part of their ongoing success – we are looking forward to working with the club in 2013 and beyond.”