The English Schools Athletic Association (ESAA) finds itself without a sponsor and in financial crisis as its centenary anniversary looms.
The Association is entirely volunteer-led with nobody in the organisation taking any salary from its activities. The ESAA relies solely on a large group of teachers and retired teachers who volunteer for the benefit of young athletes and their love of the sport.
Schools Athletics is a pivotal part of the landscape of the sport in England and across the UK. Many agree that senior athletics in this country would not have been so successful over the years had it not been for the existence of the ESAA. Valuable work has been done in recent years highlighting the high numbers of athletes who competed at the Schools Championships and went on to both represent their country but also to win medals at the highest level, at Olympics and World Championships, as well as those who have gone on to be successful in other sports. Many thousands of young people compete each year highlighting the values of inclusivity and equality in sport as well as improving both their physical and mental health.
In total, 135 ESAA athletes have won European Championship medals, 35 of them gold; 278 have won medals at British Empire or Commonwealth Games, of which 81 have won gold. ESAA has produced fourteen Olympic champions and 77 medallists, with Mo Farah the most recent, as well as 71 World Championship medals, of which 13 were gold, the most recent including Dina Asher-Smith & Katarina Johnson-Thompson in 2019.
Many top-class athletes talk fondly of their first experience at the championships and what they learned by being away from home in a team setting. Keely Hodgkinson was recently asked what the English Schools Championships did for her career. Her answer gives some idea of their importance.
“The English Schools Athletics Association Championships was always the first thing I would put on my annual competition calendar each year as a young developing athlete,” she said. “It’s basically the Olympics for kids!"
The Covid Pandemic has obviously been massively detrimental to the ESAA as with many other charities. Despite working incredibly hard to produce an amazing championship under difficult circumstances in 2021; not receiving any sponsorship funding from their then title sponsor, and even with the help of a grant from England Athletics, the future looks bleak.
The Track & Field championships, normally held over two days, require the athletes to travel and stay as a county team, meaning that almost 2000 athletes and their team staff need accommodation for two nights, along with over a hundred technical officials. ESAA has always subsidised the cost of accommodation for the athletes, meaning that well over £100,000 is spent annually on hotel costs, leaving the athletes to find another £100,000 plus. Overnight stays could be reduced or removed (as they had to be in 2021) but this would take away the huge educational benefits for all the young athletes, replicating the Team Travel at International Events and giving an early experience of learning to share, cooperate and work alongside other athletes.
Without adequate funding, all of this is at risk, both the opportunities for the masses and the first steps on the ladder for future Olympic and world champions.
The Association are working hard to secure a new sponsor. In the interim however, we hope to utilise this crowdfunding to secure funds for the 2022 Track & Field Championships. We hope this will enable the Championships to go ahead without passing additional costs on to the athletes and teams - else this may restrict entry for many talented young athletes. Our target of £100,000 would enable us to keep the entry fee at the same level as before and ensure that no athlete who qualifies is left at home because they can’t afford the entry fee.
More on this can be found here:
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