Why The British Athletics Selection Bar Is Set So High

Why the British athletics selection bar is set so high

“Setting tough standards helps improve performance levels,” writes UKA chair Ian Beattie as he outlines the reasoning behind the governing body’s strict policy

There has been a lot of discussion before every championship about the selection policy that UKA has in place. I wanted to explain the thinking behind it in more detail.

British athletics

Ever since lottery funding came into place, the philosophy underpinning all lottery funded UK elite sport has been about ‘World Class Performance’. Ultimately this means winning medals in world level competition, inspiring the nation in doing so. World Class Programme Lottery funding is ring-fenced – only to be used to support athletes in their build up ultimately to the Games, to fund governing bodies to help athletes, and to fund teams taking part in those championships and Games.

Why the British athletics selection bar is set so high

Whilst this means the World Class Programme has been somewhat shielded from the financial issues of the rest of the organisation, like any public money, those who receive it are accountable for it, in our case via UK Sport. While some sports will only select athletes with medal potential, we have agreed with UK Sport that an aim of achieving top eight performance fits the world class criteria they are prepared to fund.

Athletics has many disciplines, so our teams tend to be much bigger than other sports and consequently more expensive, and – contrary to belief – we do also have to make a financial contribution to our team attending a Games. UK Sport’s view – and it is a view I agree with – is that an athlete getting to the Olympics with little chance of qualifying from their heat or pool, does not have a significant impact on inspiring the nation, and therefore does not merit public funding.

There is also an issue that larger teams can dilute the level of support given during the championships to our genuine medal contenders, and that there is a demotivational effect on the team as a whole when the first few days of the championship are dominated by athletes failing to qualify from their heat or pool.

The World Athletics ranking qualification system has resulted in much debate. We should be clear that this is not a direct invitation to the athlete to take part nor do we ‘turn down’ invites. Rather it is a different qualification route for athletes, allowing national federations to select athletes through this route if they consider it appropriate to do so.

Our view is that those athletes should only be selected on similar principles to those selected through the direct qualification standards. That is, those who are capable of making top eight in their event.

The UKA standards – circulated amongst the relevant event groups ahead of the policy – reflect this and, in most cases, those used for this year’s selection were the same standards we used for Budapest last year. To take a different approach would risk having a two-tier team, with athletes being selected in events where there is not the same depth of quality despite having little chance of achieving a top eight performance.

I have always believed setting tough standards helps improve performance levels. If we consider the team that will be going to Paris, many of the selected athletes will have looked at the qualifying standards when they were issued and thought these would be very difficult to achieve. Their response has been to go away and plan with their support teams how they are going to raise their level of performance through training and competition choices, and then deliver what has been asked of them.

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What is required for selection is very clear, whether through achieving the standards themselves or what is needed to be done for a World Athletics ranking qualification to be accepted.  The policy was issued well in advance – in July 2023 – and communicated to all athletes in multiple forums and applied fairly.

Why the British athletics selection bar is set so high

It would be fantastic to be able to select larger teams take part in championship events, but we want this to be through an increase in the number of athletes having the potential to finish in the top eight. In selecting teams there will always be a line with some people unfortunately on the wrong side of it, and I do understand the disappointment of those who fall into this category. The nature of our sport is that small margins can make a huge difference, and I feel for those who have just missed out on the standard set.

Why the British athletics selection bar is set so high

As we know, the elite sports world is a tough environment, and athletics – as one of only two truly global sports – is the most competitive at a world and Olympic level. The philosophy around selection being based on world class performance is not going to change so the challenge ahead for all athletes is to raise their levels of performance, achieving the standards required, and be part of the team for future championships. Nothing would please us more than a large team filled with athletes having achieved these standards.

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