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Money hurdle lays in the path of City of York Athletic Club
The warmth of London 2012 and the success of Sir Chris Hoy is being replaced by the chill of increased running costs
Building on the legacy of London 2012 is threatened as new cash demands impact on membership at City of York Athletic Club as STEVE CARROLL discovers.
THEY already needed new sponsors to try to bridge a projected £15,000 funding gap, now their own governing body has made City of York Athletic Club’s task £4,500 harder.
Chairman Neil Hunter fears England Athletics’ decision to impose significant rises in affiliation fees, the charges club members pay to take part in competitions, will have a huge effect on the 650-strong outfit.
They were basking in the glow of Olympic legacy at Huntington Stadium, with as many as 140 new youngsters attending starter sessions every Friday – inspired by the performance of Great Britain’s heroes at London 2012.
With the promise of a new track in a £2 million link-up with York Sports Village on the horizon, Hunter and his fellow volunteers had reason to look to the future with confidence.
But he is worried at the fees increases, which will see the amount adults pay rise from £5 to £20 from next April, increasing to £23 in 2016, and will see under-11s charged an optional £15, could lose the club members.
Hunter has already declared the youngsters will not be affiliated with England Athletics without the club providing additional funding, and has decided City of York Athletics Club will absorb the rises for the rest of the membership at a cost of about £4,500.
That money has to come from somewhere.
“Looking at 2013, we have got a £15,000 funding gap and with this fees issue it is nearly £20,000,” he said.
“We decided, five years ago, that fees and charges were not about income but about behaviour and set a membership fee to try to attract members to the club and to try to include everybody so no one in York would be excluded from athletics because of financial means.
“The effect of these fees increases will be big for us but we are not going to abandon our membership strategy.”
What has really irked Hunter is an alleged lack of consultation. He said the first the club heard of the proposal was when the membership secretary received a letter in the post informing him of the changes.
That sparked a series of angry emails between Hunter and England Athletics chiefs, with the former accusing the body of imposing the increase to cash in on the boost of participants following London 2012.
England Athletics say core issues within the sport need funding with Government no longer being relied upon to stump up the cash, adding that they need to take the future into their own hands.
They also claim that to secure more funding, they need to be able to bring their own money to the table to gain the interest of prospective partners.
England Athletics also say that the changes come at the end of a four-year funding cycle that is up for review.
But writing to Lucy Archer, England Athletics interim team leader in the north, Hunter accused the organisation of a “stunningly irresponsible and undemocratic action from a governing body”.
He wrote: “I really hope somebody somewhere has a degree of common sense and recognises fewer members paying more is also unsustainable.
“Unfortunately I fear that EA may just plough on regardless and as such the Olympic legacy for athletics will be to destroy grass roots athletics – quite a feat given the current surge of enthusiasm we volunteers are trying to harness.”
Archer replied: “The crux of the matter is that we simple (sic) need to be more sustainable as a sport.
“We currently receive 92 per cent of our funding from Sport England and other funding providers and only eight per cent of our funding comes from affiliation and membership revenue.”
Hunter then formally objected to Chris Jones, chief executive of England Athletics, writing: “I believe you have put the Olympic legacy at threat and are running the risk of totally alienating your ‘clients’.
“Unless we understand more about this it smacks of opportunism where you recognise the short term increase in numbers and simply want to make a fast buck.
“The obvious risk is that you have ignored the risk that many may simply leave the sport. That would be a tragedy.”
Jones replied that the increase had been a “difficult and long considered decision to reach” citing that affiliation fees had not risen since 2008.
He added: “As a father of three young children (who were also inspired by the London Games and who are also members of several local sporting clubs) as well as being an active club sportsman myself, I am fully aware of the cost and implications of such on parents.
“I am also mindful that these changes amount to roughly between 18p to 38p a week to the individual which in comparison to other sports who operate a membership scheme of this nature is I believe very reasonable.
“I am also mindful that unlike sports such as tennis, cricket, football and rugby union we do not have the luxury of being dependable on major event and Test match revenue to prop up and underpin such core services which, like many other sports, puts us in a precarious and unsustainable position.
“Whatever way we want to look at this I firmly believe that we are in the service industry (which is competitive) and people expect a specific level of service and provision whether that be well administered education courses and programmes, regular and professional communications, events, welfare, insurance and competitions.
“To sustain such co-ordinated activities the sport needs to review its current funding model.”
Andy Barber, England Athletics spokesman, added that the sport had to start supporting itself.
“When you look at the pressure on Government funding from the NHS, education, policing, the funding for our core things isn’t going to come from Government,” he explained.
“It needs to come from within the sport.
“We are talking with Sport England for funding for the next four years. If there is something there to get funding for, we are going to need to bring some more money in.
“If you can’t show some core funding is in place, those funding conversations are going to be pretty short.
“It all goes back to the initial Government funding cycle, that was signed off in 2008. The Olympics and Paralympics were held coming to the end of that.
“The main thing is that if we know we can bring in a meaningful level of funding that safeguards the fundamentals then that puts us in a far, far stronger position to then have those conversations with Sport England and any other providers and come to the table.”