Athletics Writers complain over their “taken away” dinner

The British Athletics Writers’ annual awards dinner, which has been the sport’s annual celebration each autumn for nearly 50 years, will not be taking place in 2010, with the journalists blaming the national governing body for an attempted “takeover” of their long-established event.

Winning smile: double European champion Mo Farah, candidate for SJA and BAWA awards

The BAWA circulated its members this week with the sad news about an event that was first staged in 1963. The blow will be particularly hard felt, since the British team at this year’s European championships and the home countries athletics squads at the Delhi Commonwealth Games all performed outstandingly well.

Mo Farah, winner of the 5,000-10,000 metres double in Barcelona, and Jessica Ennis, the European heptathlon winner, both leading contenders for honours in the SJA’s British Sports Awards next month, are the leading contenders for the BAWA’s Athlete of the Year prizes.

BAWA members agreed unanimously at their annual meeting in the summer to pursue a more intimate event from 2011, after several years when Aviva, UK Athletics’ lead sponsor, through the sport’s marketing agency FastTrack, had taken up much of the funding and management of the event, which has usually been staged at a leading West End hotel.

UKA and Aviva are now to stage their own awards event in Loughborough next month.

The BAWA statement, signed by the committee headed by chairman Simon Turnbull, says, “We have been attempting to arrange an awards lunch at short notice and are still striving to do so, although it now looks as though we may not be able to find somewhere suitable – or more to the point, available – in central London before the end of the year.

“It may be that we will have to carry over the lunch until the new year but we will do everything in our power to have some kind of function before 2010 is out.”

The BAWA place some degree of responsibility for the situation with sponsors and the sport’s governing body.

“The officers of BAWA met with representatives of Aviva on day two of the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in August to discuss the details of this year’s dinner and were asked to include a select number of UKA awards on the programme.

“As Charles Van Commenee would be arranging his end of year squad get-together to coincide with the dinner, we felt that to help ensure the leading athletes would be in attendance we would allow some UKA awards to be presented. We did this with some reluctance, however – with the realisation that we needed to make sure that the event went ahead this year.

“We did not give our agreement on the basis that it would be a joint venture between ourselves and UK Athletics but it was made clear on a teleconference call in mid-September that Aviva wanted to promote the dinner as such – and also to switch the venue from central London to Loughborough. It was at this point that we made the decision that it would be in the best interests of all parties concerned if BAWA and Aviva went their separate ways.

“The officers of BAWA felt that a move to the Midlands and a joint billing would basically amount to a UKA takeover of our long-established event and would be something our members would not countenance.

“We informed Aviva that we were fully appreciative of the generous support they had given to the BAWA awards dinner over recent years, and indeed of their efforts to arrange something suitable for 2010. However, we felt that we could not surrender the sole title to an event that had been established since 1963 to a joint function with UK Athletics.”

The BAWA is now in a race of their own – against time to find a suitable London restaurant in which to stage an awards lunch before the end of this year.

The BAWA’s awards, they say, “are trophies with a long and distinguished history and we are sure the winners will be proud to have their names on them. They are own crown jewels and we did not wish to see their value diminished in any way”. They remain hopeful of some generous financial support for the event.

Of course, BAWA members are very welcome to join their journalist colleagues from a range of other sports at the SJA’s British Sports Awards lunch being staged at The Brewery in central London on December 8.

There tickets for SJA members are £80 (plus VAT). SJA members may also buy an additional guest ticket for the discounted price of £100 (plus VAT). Tickets for non-SJA members are £120 (plus VAT) each.

Voting for the SJA’s annual British Sports Awards is now open. Only SJA members may vote, and they are allowed to vote only once, when they must choose their top three choice for Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year.

Deadline for voting is November 9.

Tickets to attend the SJA British Sports Awards on December 8 are also now on sale.

  • The Sports Journalists’ Association is proud to have UK Sport as our lead sponsor, in a partnership that stretches back to the 1970s, when the then Sports Council first worked together with us to stage awards to recognise sports writing in this country.