The key event dates for the 2018 British Athletics season have been announced.

This includes the UK Indoor Championships, ahead of the World Indoor Championships coming back to Birmingham in March. ‘Athletes vying for British team selection are required to compete at this event, guaranteeing the highest quality fields and plenty of head to head rivalries.’

Also the outdoor British Championships on the 30 June -1 July. This date confirmation came with the statement that ‘competition is mandatory for those targeting British athletics placed for August’s European Championships, so you can ensure that all the top British athletes will be competing.’

My eyes opened wider on reading mandatory. “Required by law or mandate, compulsory”.

Athletes have always been expected to compete, but mandatory sounds like the ante has been upped.

Does this mean there will no longer be discretion for the sick or injured? Or for those choosing and getting permission to compete elsewhere?

This got me thinking. 

Why does winning a British title seem to have lost its appeal? Some athletes are having to have their arm twisted to potentially become a national champion.

There have been many battles over the years at our National Championships, brilliant competition, brilliant World class performances.

I will never forget the classic Men’s 400m of 1996. Roger Black winning in a UK record of 44.39s and Iwan Thomas coming third in 44.69s!

Only for Iwan to return a year later and grab the title and the UK record running 44.36s. A record which still stands today.

My coach Linford Christie won 15 medals from 1984–1996 including 8 titles over 100m. 9 if you count his 10.18s guest win in 1995! 

No male sprinter has crossed the finish line first more than Linford at our National Championships. (Or as I will always call them, the AAA’s!)

His fastest ever legal winning time was 10.04s in his final win in 1996, but Linford didn’t race at the National Championships for spectacular times. It was for the title, for the crowds. He loved becoming national champion and performing for the British public.

When I joined Linford to be coached at the end of 1997 I was already a National Championships believer. What I mean by this is that it was always part of my season. 

So when my year was mapped out, the first two events after the major Championships in that season were always the Europa Cup and the AAA’s.

Wearing a British vest was an honour, becoming National Champion, the best in Britain, was something special.

In 1991, at just 16, I won 200m silver, and achieved the sprint double in Sheffield 3 years later.

I am extremely proud to have won all three sprint titles. One of my favourite races ever was winning the 400m UK title on my home track in 1999.

The National Championships, the UK Championships, the British Championships, the AAA’s, whatever you call them, still mean a lot to me.

For some current athletes they don’t appear to care. I don’t understand it.

Some athletes appear to be scared to compete against each other, prepared to jeopardise their potential place at a major championships by not going head to head with their rivals. 

It’s bizarre as many are hoping to take on the rest of the World, but are fearful of those in their own back yard!

Is it that too many fear for their lottery funding if they don’t make the squad because of their performance at the Trials, and would rather leave their fate in the hands of the selectors?

Some, as always, just think they are bigger and better than they are.

With so much in the athletics calendar maybe this has diluted the athletes desire for a title. Some coaches play as many psychological games as athletes and guide their prodigies away from competing.

Growing up as a child in sport you want to represent your country. Why would put that at risk by not going through qualifying as you are suppose to? You want to compete and are gutted if you are ever left off a team, why put this in jeopardy?

Sport is 90% mental attitude and belief, so why you would not go to the qualifying event, when everyone is supposed to be on top of their game and beat your opponents, giving you that psychological edge? Do they not believe in themselves or is it their team that doesn’t believe in them?

I will never forget Linford saying every season. ‘Do not leave it in the hands of the selectors’.

In terms of this new more powerful ‘mandatory’ wording I feel little will change.

GB cannot afford to leave potential medalists and top 8 finishers at home. We don’t have the depth in the events to do it. 

Unless you say “sod it these are the rules. You have to compete.” Go hard core for the next 1 or 2 Olympic cycles with Tokyo and Paris and take the hit performance wise. Set a precedent that builds a new culture and the importance of the National Championships. Potential short term loss for long term gain. Just a thought.

But those with a confirmed illness or injury will get a exemption though, of this I am sure. 

Athletics fans understand that things happen and do have sympathy if a genuine injury or illness rules someone out. Many though don’t believe the withdrawal is always genuine, especially if an athlete is unable to compete at a National Championships, but 3 minutes later is seen to be competing elsewhere. It looks bad, because it is bad. 

Stay at home, please the crowds, face your domestic rivals and at least try to become a British champion.

If you are injured then attend the Championships, show your support, accept media requests, infield chats, athletics fans always like to hear from the athletes.

Some athletes though will always find a reason around every rule that could potentially be put in place.

Build more interaction around those not competing on that weekend. This is a different topic with a hundred ideas!

The attendance over the last few years at our National Championships has been poor. I remember them being packed, people bringing picnics and sitting in the sun fighting for space long before the back straight stand was built at Alexander Stadium. 

Here in the UK there were big tickets sales throughout last summer at our events, just not at the National Championships. 

Some big names missing, that’s a’s a harder sell when they aren’t there. Even more so when they retire!

It’s tough for our sport as we do need to protect our main contenders for the Championships. The Federation has to have exemptions in place, unless you go for the above mentioned “sod it” route! In years gone by you could get away with missing one or two big names, there were many big names to choose from. Not now. 

The National Championships used to be surrounded by tension and anticipation. We need to get the fans back, and all our athletes there, especially as a lot of elements of the event delivery have improved.

A great start would be getting the desire of some of the athletes to become a National Champion.

More than ever our Athletes have a responsibility to the sport. Show that it means something to you.  If you don’t care then why should sponsors and fans.