Paula Radcliffe says athletics must attract more kids if it is to have a future

Paula Radcliffe has voiced concern for athletics’ future unless more kids are inspired to take up the sport.

The domestic season starts today with world champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Laura Muir headlining at the Glasgow Indoor Grand Prix.

Also in action will be Jemma Reekie, the 21-year-old Scot who recently broke three British indoor records in the space of eight days.

Athletics is at its lowest ebb in years. Britain failed to hit its medal target at the World Championships in Doha in October and with the governing body in turmoil, former CEO of England Netball Joanna Adams was hired as UK Athletics' new chief executive on Thursday.

It comes in a week where UK Sport announced a major review into UK Athletics while there are reports that the BBC may seek to renegotiate its TV rights deal on greatly reduced terms.

Marathon legend Radcliffe admits it is a “worrying” time and that it is vital the sport comes up with new ways to appeal to the young.

“Athletics is competing with so many more sports for kids and parents’ attention,” she said. “It’s harder and harder in today’s world to get kids and parents to put their screens down. We’ve got to do something to grab that attention.

“Part of the issue is they are not pulled into it as a spectator sport, which is kind of how I got involved in athletics:  drawn in by watching the LA Olympics, then pestering my dad to take me down to a local track.

“If we’re not attracting people at that level, you worry a little bit about the future of the sport.”

Which is one reason Radcliffe is so excited by the emergence of Reekie, the new British indoor record holder at 800 metres, mile and 1500m, the distance she races today.

But she is also angered that a question mark has been placed over the young Glaswegian’s feats by what she is wearing on her feet, namely prototype Nike spikes, only months before a new World Athletics rule bans any prototype shoe from elite competition.

The debate continues despite Reekie’s coach Andy Young saying her shoes do meet the regs as they will be on the market before April.

Radcliffe said: “It’s really key that kids see success as attainable. And when it’s people that they know I think it’s much easier to think it’s something you can do.

“Which is why it’s so dangerous and I have so many issues with people pointing fingers and making excuses about whether shoes help that much or not. It hands young athletes an excuse not to be good enough when they need to think ‘right, I can do that’.”

As part of Radcliffe’s mission to get more youngsters running, her Families on Track initiative conducted a study which showed one in six parents of kids under 16 never exercise with their offspring and nearly half don’t consider themselves a physical role model for their children.

“Something like 87% of 13-18 year olds don’t meet the World Health Organisation guidelines for physical activity which is 20 minutes of walking three times a week,” she said.

“Young kids want to run around, they want to be active, you only have to look at playgrounds. It’s only society that kind of trains them to be lazier as they get older.”

RunFestRun is championing families to get more active with a 3-day running festival on May 22-24 at Windsor Great Park. Paula Radcliffe's new initiative Families On Track will be there offering people of all abilities the chance to take part. Sign up now at: www.runfestrun.co.uk

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