English Cross Country Association and three English area associations issue statement criticising UKA’s efforts to create equality on the country

The national and area bodies that have been organising cross country championships in England since the 1870s have teamed up to oppose UK Athletics’ moves to create gender equality in cross country.

Northern Athletics, Midland Counties AA, South of England AA and the English Cross Country Association (ECCA) held a meeting on Friday (January 14) to discuss what they believe is a “skewed, flawed and biased” survey created by UKA with the aim of consulting the sport about how to achieve equality over racing distances on the country.

In a joint statement the four organisations say their aim is “delivering a unified response on behalf of the sport of cross country through the sport’s major competition providers and in particular within the coming discussions with UK Athletics and England Athletics over the controversial issue of equalisation of cross country distances”.

The statement from the ECCA and three area bodies says: “It is worth emphasising that these organisations have been organising the Area and National Championships for the sport of cross country for many years. They do this without any support or input from either UKA or England Athletics. None of the athlete registration fee income or the club affiliation fee income paid to England Athletics is routed directly into the sport of cross country.”

The first English ‘National’ Championships, which is organised by the ECCA, was staged back in 1876. The history of cross-country championships at English area level is equally lengthy with the legendary Walter George, for example, winning the inaugural Midlands title in 1879.

The statement continues: “The events, the selection and development pathway for athletes and representative teams are all organised by volunteers and funded by event entry fees. The people involved also voluntarily organise and deliver local leagues and County Championships in their areas. The sport is in the ascendancy in terms of numbers and local events.

“We know, from contact with our Championship competitors, that the vast majority have made it clear over the past two or three years that they are not in favour of equalising distances. Northern Athletics will be carrying out its own survey over the coming weeks to ascertain the views of its affiliated clubs and their athletes.

“Our unified group look forward to considering the results of the recent UKA survey but we are, however, convinced that that survey is flawed and the questions skewed to obtain a certain result.”

Northern Cross Country Champs, 2018, U17 women’s race. Photo by David Hewitson

The ECCA and area bodies were asked by UKA to comment on the survey prior to its launch this month. However, their request for the questionnaire to be only sent to people directly involved in cross country was ignored. “The detailed email on the questions from the ECCA,” they add, “was not acknowledged and no reply has yet been received.”

In one piece of correspondence, though, they were told by UKA “that equalisation was not a matter of whether but how”. However this is disputed by Jo Coates, the chief executive of UKA, who told AW last week that nothing has yet been decided and that UKA are keen to listen to as much feedback and opinion as possible before making a decision.

READ MORE: Thousands respond to cross-country gender equality survey

The ECCA and area bodies statement add: “The survey went out without our concerns being considered. We are concerned this unfortunate approach may be indicative of the future.

“The survey is biased, as it only allows respondents to state how equalisation should be achieved not whether it should happen. We know that this has caused many of those, who wish to state their views, not to complete the survey.

“We are also concerned that, in the first week or so of the survey being live, it was possible to make multiple submissions; and whilst this now appears to have been corrected, we believe this could invalidate the survey results. We also know that many of the athletes who we would have expected to have received the survey link have not done so.”

England Athletics say the survey was sent to about 80,000 athletes, affiliated clubs and competition providers and add: “The survey was ‘open’ for about one hour before it was changed to block multiple answers. And responses are going to be strictly audited using IP data and data analysis.”

In a divisive and emotional subject, athletes who have so far entered the debate include Paula Radcliffe and Zola Pieterse – former winners of the world cross-country women’s title. They believe there are more important areas to sort out, although Pieterse agrees with World Athletics’ recent policy of equalising the senior men’s and women’s distances to 10km.

READ MORE: Paula Radcliffe and Zola Pieterse on the cross-country distances debate

The ECCA and area bodies added in their statement: “It is apparent, from the extensive views expressed on social media, that the “pro and anti-equalisation” camps do not agree but we are encouraged that many successful and experienced cross country runners and coaches have outlined genuine concerns, about athlete welfare, retention and development, as these are key concerns for us particularly for female athletes.

“We accept, as is their right, that some organisations (Scottish Athletics and Essex County) have taken the decision to equalise distances to 10km. However, many other organisations and leagues have decided, after consulting their members, to retain the unequal distances for senior (including European Athletics), junior and U17 age groups.

“Early indications are that both Wales and Northern Ireland are not yet convinced by the equalisation aims. In addition, emerging analysis, which compares the results and performances of equalised distance events with the unequal distance events, shows that the equalised distances impact adversely on the performance of the female athletes and as such appear unfair to female performance.

“We urge all those who love the sport to complete the (UKA) survey and make your views known especially in the box provided for further comments.

“Our unified group will continue to represent the majority views of those in the sport and we look forward to the open debate and discussions as promised over the coming months. We will continue to discuss at our subsequent meetings the need to ensure our sport of cross country does not have imposed upon it rules which are against the wishes and feelings of the majority.”

If you have not yet filled in the UKA survey, you have until January 29 and it can be found by clicking here whereas the complete statement from the ECAA and area bodies can be read on their respective websites.

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