UK Athletics Fumbles Global Championship Selection Process With Focus On Smaller Squad

By Kyle Merber

March 8, 2023

UK Athletics chief executive Jack Buckner said that he wants to be more ‘ruthless’ when selecting teams for global championships. Maybe whichever therapist told him that he needs to start focusing on visualizing success before it can be achieved is the real individual to blame?

With the pool of talent constantly getting deeper and the Olympic standards getting faster, no athlete is ‘making up the numbers’ to qualify – okay, maybe within the world ranking system that’s a little bit doable.

But when it comes to qualifying for Budapest, UK athletes must achieve the world standards in the 200/400/400H/800/1500/5000. If selected by ranking in another event, then they must also be under the British standard, which is not significantly different from the world one.

This is one of many problems with the world ranking system – many countries do not respect it as an earned berth. That presents one hell of a problem when 50% of all participants are expected to qualify via the rankings. World Athletics needs to come down hard on federations that pull this stunt as it completely undermines the methodology.

My suggestion is simple: If UKA chooses not to send an athlete that rightfully qualifies for a global championship, then World Athletics issues a fine. That money can be used to fund the athlete’s trip for them to compete as an individual without a national allegiance.

In 2022, Team GB earned seven medals, which was the fourth most among nations. The gold-to-bronze ratio probably wasn’t what UKA hoped for, but it’s not like there is some drastic problem that needs a major overhaul. At the Tokyo Olympics, the sun set on the British Empire with five medals. While that one day at the London Olympics was memorable, that sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, which is why it is still referred to as Super Saturday. (Pretty strong nickname considering that Jesus dying for our sins was only thought to be a Good Friday.)

Other countries have tried this methodology; ask New Zealand or Canada how it worked out. The key to developing talent is investing in the youth. It takes many athletes time to become acquainted with the international stage and there are stages to progress through. Look at Neil Gourley: At European Indoors in 2019 he was booted in the first round, then in 2021 he got last in the final, and in 2023 the Scot grabbed a silver medal.

This is an ongoing problem with federations in distributing funding to athletes. Do you reward athletes who are currently competing well? Those are the individuals who likely receive the least benefit from an additional $40,000. They’re already sponsored, training full-time, and have the opportunity to travel to meets or camps.

Comparatively, there’s a significant shift in lifestyle and training approach for an unsponsored athlete if they were to receive the same amount of money. That might be the difference between working 40 hours a week and not, which in turn might be what finally transforms an international qualifier into a medal threat. But how do you determine the best way to support those athletes? Well, it’s definitely not by leaving them at home for the Games they rightfully qualify for. Don’t be surprised when athletes switch allegiances to compete for countries that believe in their abilities.

The Lap Count is a weekly newsletter delivered on Wednesday mornings that recap all the fun action from the world of track & field. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the sport. There is a lot happening and this newsletter is a great way to stay up to date with all the fun. Subscribe today.

Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.