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Proposed county rule change

We’ve been asked to publicise a proposed rule change for county eligibility. The deadline for comments is July 20th. Please pass this on, and let Bedfordshire AAA know what you think by emailing enquiries@leightonbuzzardac.co.uk.

Leighton Buzzard AC and Bedfordshire AAA have suggested that one be allowed to compete having first claim membership of a club affiliated to that county, in addition to the current qualification by birth or residence. To actually proposa a rule change, they need messages of support from as many clubs and county associations as possible.

Please read their letter on the proposed Rule Change

In a nutshell, it’s a small county and most clubs are very near a boundary. These clubs have little incentive to turn out as half their members may be over a border.

Bedfordshire region

Seven of nine Bedfordshire clubs are near a county boundary

We’re in support of this for two reasons. First of all, it can only increase participation, encouraging clubs on county boundaries to turn out in force. We know this affects about half the clubs in Surrey. Secondly, it will reduce the administration burden, because it’s easy to check. It exactly ticks our mission statement: save time for the volunteers, and help the sport to grow.

We’ve helped six counties manage their entries and prepare for their championships this May, saving many man-days in the preparation process. We hope to do the same for more counties next season, and we have a pretty good idea by now where time goes and what creates headaches. The biggest remaining “time sink” was checking peoples’ England Athletics eligibility - and when you check this, you do find out the first claim club too.

Club membership is generally well known. We’re working to get it accepted that this is actually Open Data; we think everyone should be able to see who’s registered with which club, not just the membership secretary, because this (in addition to your age group) is the basic data which the sport needs to function. In many countries, like Spain, or Estonia (which we manage), the federation web site shows who all the members of all the clubs are in a given season.

So, if this rule was adopted, we could quickly assemble an open public registry of which clubs were affiliated with which counties; and we’d be able to “clear” the vast majority of athletes as eligible AS THEY ENTERED.

Right now, when an athlete enters a county championships, we are forced to ask them “are you qualified by residence, or birth?”. Many of them answer “both”, and we get into semantics because that option wasn’t available on the paper forms (apparently you’re supposed to say birth if it’s both). Verification is impractical because athletics officials cannot easily visit a registry office a thousand times, nor can they tell if someone borrows a postcode. We’re also uncomfortable collecting data on home addresses; it’s sensitive personal data, and the less of that we can collect, the better.

OpenTrack recording data

We can simplify this a lot, if first claim club determined your eligibility

It’s a safe bet that 80% of the athletes entering will be a first claim member of a club in the county. So that’s the default approach. When we look someone up in the England Athletics API, we get back their first claim club. So if this clears them to compete, we don’t even need to ask them about birth or residence. The scrutineers would only have to look at a small percentage of the athletes.

If you have opinions on this, please let LBAC/Beds AAA know what you think by emailing enquiries@leightonbuzzardac.co.uk. They need to demonstrate support from clubs and from counties if they are going to propose a rule change.

It’s a different gripe, but while we’re on the subject of the burden of checking entries, the other missing piece of the puzzle would be for the competition checker to tell us when peoples’ club memberships expired. The current “three month grace period” means that the Competition Checker is basically lying to us in April, May and June, just when we need it most. It lets anyone challenge things and say “my club secretary will pay by June, honest!” If the competition checker was clear on whether you had expired on 31st March 2017, or were paid until 31st March 2018, we’d all be able to exercise common sense. Maybe a few athletes could be on a “watch list” and told they need to pay before the championships date, but most could be unambiguously cleared to compete without human intervention.

Andy Robinson Managing Director, OpenTrack 9th July 2017

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