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5 May 2016

THE BASC'S JOHN STANDERLINE IS SURPRISED MORE SPECATORS DON'T WATCH CLUB-LEVEL TRACK AND FIELD

April was a fairly quiet month for major athletics events so this column is all about the grassroots of our sport.

The Welsh Athletics League gives both young and older athletes an opportunity to perform individually and for their club with under-17, under-20 and senior competitions. In 2016 the league has four events, in Newport, Brecon and Carmarthen with a final in Swansea at the end of July.

In theory, the weather at the end of last month should have been warming up, but the first event of the 2016 league at the Newport Stadium on April 24 started sunny and fair and rapidly became cloudy and cold – not the best athletics conditions.

Newport Stadium, part of the Newport Sport Village which a year ago moved from Newport Council to not-for-profit charity Newport Live, is a fully equipped eight-lane track maintained in good condition. The home of Newport Harriers, the venue was also formerly used by Newport County Football Club. It has two stands, the one on the finish straight having good seating. It is a friendly venue where you can even take your dog – try that at the Olympic Stadium!

The afternoon of athletics featured 19 track and 10 field events over a five-hour period. While some events only had a few competitors, others had many more entrants than the organisers expected, including eight heats of the men’s and women’s 100m and a similar number of heats in the 200m.

Sports fans are a fickle crew, selling out most Premier League football matches while League Two clubs are pleased if they can get a crowd that is 10% of those that attend the top flight; the Anniversary Games can sell out while the UK Championships at a smaller venue does not; IPC athletics events are very pleased if 40% of the crowd stays after a Diamond League event.

A full afternoon of events and good competition ought to bring out the supporters. So why was I probably the only person there who was not an athlete, official, coach or part of an athlete’s family and friends? Most events of the first fixture of the Welsh Athletics League produced competitive races that would entertain crowds anywhere.

Without grassroots athletics we do not find those who become elite athletes yet while we pay high ticket prices to attend major events we do not support good events which charge spectators nothing or nominal entry. And clearly organisers were not expecting any as the spectator doors to the main stand were locked and shuttered.

The music that accompanies major events was absent in Newport and, while the commentary was not up to Geoff Wightman’s standard, the experienced announcer kept us informed as best as he could, despite not being provided with the details of all competitors.

The afternoon started with a mixed 2km walk – won by Megan Stratton ahead of her male fellow competitors. The rest of the afternoon produced competitive races that were enjoyable to watch. Apart from delays produced by more entries than expected in some events, meaning more heats than planned, the timetable was maintained throughout the afternoon and the whole event was well managed. We even saw some athletes achieve the qualifying standard for the World Junior Championships.

This first fixture of the 2016 Welsh Athletics League was an enjoyable afternoon’s athletics and I can only encourage other athletics supporters to see the remaining fixtures or to attend similar events near where they live.

John Standerline is the deputy chairman of the BASC and Trustee of Newport Live

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