Athletics Weekly|March 19, 2020
SINCE 1969 and 1975, the British Athletics League (BAL, for men) and UK Women’s League (UKWL) have operated as entirely separate entities, in different leagues and, more often than not, at different venues. But from May we will see male and female athletes compete alongside each other for the first time at the highest level of domestic league athletics in the UK.
As readers of AW recently will know, the move is an attempt to reinvigorate domestic athletics, which has declined steadily over the past 20 years as a consequence of diminishing financial support, general decline in participatory numbers for clubs, and the emergence of the European circuit and relatively easy ways for athletes of all abilities to compete abroad.
In a bid to improve the quality and atmosphere of competitions, a new league format will also be introduced. Previously, the BAL and UKWL utilized a traditional linear structure that comprised of 40 teams competing in five divisions of eight. Replacing this is a round-robin group format, consisting of three significantly larger tiers:
Premiership: 16 teams Championship: 14 teams Division one: 8 teams The top two tiers are then divided into groups of four: A, B, C, and D, with each foursome facing a different pool in three matches. The final competition will see a grand finale, where teams will compete not only for victory in the final match but in the league as a whole.
This is unquestionably the most ambitious overhaul of both the BAL and UKWL since each came into existence. But what factors have contributed to the merger and reformulation of these longstanding competitions? How have these leagues developed since their inception and what are the views of athletes and team managers on the NAL’s future? To better understand the ambition for the league to reach new heights in domestic athletics, let us first take a look at its origins.
Prior to 1969, there was no UK-wide structure in place for the nation’s best athletes to compete against one another on a regular basis. Instead, a competition was to be found primarily in regional competitions and national championships.
The plans for a UK wide league were hatched by Tony Ward – who later became the first professional press officer for athletics in Britain – and Tom McNab, a seven-time Scottish triple jump champion and a national athletics coach. Both travelled across Europe looking for a competitive model to emulate and found inspiration when they came across a particularly efficient and successful system in place in Poland.
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March 19, 2020