Supporters of the Aldershot Relays have written an open letter to the South of England AA to say why they are not racing at the official area road relays on the same day at Crystal Palace

Some of the biggest athletics clubs in the South of England claim a “catalogue of errors” by their area governing body has forced them to organise their own separate road relay event this weekend.

The Aldershot Road Relays will be staged at Rushmoor Arena on the same day (Sept 24) about 40 miles away from the official South of England Road Relay Championships at Crystal Palace.

The latter event in south London looks set to be poorly attended, but clubs participating in the Aldershot event claim last-minute cancellations and uncertainties over dates and venues in recent years together with problems with results and lack of marshals has led to an “erosion of trust”.

It has led to the bizarre situation of two road relay events taking place for clubs in the area on Saturday. There are, of course, no such issues at the North of England Road Relays or Midland Relays, which also take place this weekend at Sportcity in Manchester and Sutton Park respectively.

Major clubs such as Aldershot, Farnham & District, Highgate Harriers, Belgrave, Shaftesbury Barnet and Tonbridge AC, among others, have issued an open letter to the South of England Athletics Association (SEAA) where they explain that the Aldershot Relays were created out of frustration due to the SEAA being slow to publicise where its annual men’s six-stage and women’s four-stage relays were due to take place.

One team manager who is supporting the Aldershot event told AW it was “an unprecedented, unnecessary and unwanted dilution of our already small sport”.

In response, the SEAA has welcomed collaboration and invited members from the breakaway clubs to join its endurance group so that future events go ahead more smoothly under the official SEAA banner.

South of England Road Relays at Crystal Palace (Mark Shearman)

As we originally reported in the Dip Finish column of the September issue of AW magazine, the English Road Running Association (ERRA) has been left with a dilemma over how to select representative teams from the South of England for the ERAA National Road Relay Championships at Sutton Park on October 8 and they have decided to pick clubs from both the Aldershot and Crystal Palace events.

Clubs supporting the Aldershot Relays this weekend have gone into more detail in their open letter to the SEAA, which is printed below in full.

This letter is intended to clarify why club team managers listed below have taken the decision to enter their teams at the Aldershot (Rushmore Arena) Relays instead of the SEAA event at Crystal Palace on September 24th 2022.

The clubs listed below place great significance on the SEAA annual road relays in September and March but a catalogue of errors over the past few years has led to an erosion of trust that the SEAA can effectively communicate, host and ensure the relays remain an aspirational club championship event.

Previous road relay issues include:

» 2016 uncertainty if 12/6 Stage relay competition would go ahead due to last minute cancellation of Milton Keynes venue leading to reduced club entries for the hastily rearranged venue.
» 2016 Bedford Aerodrome 6/4 stage venue & result issues.
» 2018 race results incomplete / problem for 6/4 stage at Crystal Palace venue.
» 2019 lack of marshals & route signage at Crystal Palace 6/4 Stage / YAs going off course etc.
» 2021 last minute cancellation of 6/4 Stage Relays at Crystal Palace.
» 2022 lack of timely communication if and where 6/4 Stage Relays were due to take place, hence Aldershot event being created and offered to SEAA to host as per previous years, before SEAA then belatedly listed Crystal Palace venue on same date as Aldershot relays.

Clubs listed below want to work with SEAA and offer their club members trusted, enjoyable and a true depth of quality competition that assists athlete progression.

And clubs are actively willing to work with SEAA to assist creation, communication and delivery of events but this requires less opaque one-way communication and instead an open, two-way dialogue. Therefore, we request the following changes:

» SEAA Endurance Committee to have greater transparency via open club engagement.
» SEAA Endurance Committee recommendations to have improved authority to effect change.
» SEAA agree to enhanced club communication via quarterly open club forum.
» SEAA to return to pre 2016 arrangements and accept bids from clubs to organise and promote relay championships in their entirety (on payment of an agreed levy per athlete).
» SEAA to publish the date and time of the AGM in good time on website so clubs can attend and make representations.
» SEAA to publish date and venue for each championship event no later than 6 months prior.

We are hugely appreciative of the club individuals already volunteering their time to assist SEAA hosting events, however, we feel they deserve better support and their time should be invested in events that benefit from the full backing of their grassroots community.

Yours sincerely,

Full list of club / team manager signatories: Ben Pochee & Ben Noad, Highgate Harriers; Mark Hookway, Tonbridge AC; Mike Boucher (Snr Men), AFD; Will Cockerell, Belgrave Harriers; Ric Park, Cambridge & Coleridge AC; Tony Forrest, Bedford & County AC; Jeremy Sothcott, Shaftesbury Barnet AC; Ken Pike, Kent AC; Ray Stevens, Reading AC; Jamie Taylor-Caldwell, Ealing, Southall & Middlesex AC; Geoff Jerwood, Herne Hill Harriers; Jamie Ashton, Bracknell AC; Catherine Holdsworth, Chiltern Harriers; Peter Witcomb Jnr Team Mngr, Brighton & Hove AC; Kevin Stilwell, Wycombe Phoenix Harriers; John Doyle, Hillingdon; Shireen Higgins, WSEH; Howard Bristow, Brighton & Hove AC; Stuart Flack, Epsom & Ewell Harriers; Terry Booth & Andy Coley-Maud, Guildford & Godalming AC; Dave Buzza, Cornwall AC; Mark Pauley, Poole AC; Paul Leppard, Hillingdon AC; Andy Simpson, Stubbington Green Runners; Deborah Steer, St Albans.

Cambridge & Coleridge winners in 2019 (Mark Shearman)

The South of England AA, meanwhile, responded by saying: “SEAA’s purpose is to provide championships for Southern athletes in line with the requirements of the national bodies on the nationally prescribed dates. We will continue to do this.

“The SEAA AGM gives member clubs the right to nominate individuals for Road on the Endurance Group. At this year’s AGM there were no such nominations. The Endurance Group are also able to co-opt non-elected members and we would welcome representatives of the Clubs that have signed the open letter to join the working Group.”

In order to solve the qualification procedure for the national event at Sutton Park, the ERRA general committee met and explained: “The first 8 ‘A’ teams will be invited to the National from both races. Teams filling the next 10 places at each race will then be considered by the Secretary and Championship Secretary of the ERRA Committee to determine which other teams will be invited which will also include ‘B’ teams.”

South of England Road Relays at Rushmoor Arena (Mark Shearman)

Rushmoor Arena staged the South of England autumn six- and four-stage road relays in 2015 (pictured above) before moving to Bedford and Crystal Palace.

Last year’s national event at Sutton Park 12 months ago saw Aldershot, Farnham & District claim both the men’s and women’s titles. For the report of the 2021 event, CLICK HERE

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