03 September 2020

British runner Lily Partridge calls on British Athletics to start ‘fighting for the athletes’ as long-distance events are axed from TV coverage

British long-distance star Lily Partridge has called for British Athletics to start ‘fighting for the athletes’ after broadcasters continue to cut television coverage of their events.

The 29 year-old runner believes that the ‘power structure’ is ‘wrong’ and is hoping for a ‘culture’ change within the governing body. 

The British Athletics Championships are taking place on September 4-5 at the Manchester Regional Arena behind-closed-doors.

And much as the athletes are excited to get back on the track and compete, the news that the BBC are cutting the majority of the long-distance events from its coverage has left a sour taste. 

Partridge, who won the British Half Marathon in March, said: "It doesn’t make sense, distance running has the biggest mass participation and brings the greatest volume of people to the sport, whether that’s through park runs or events like the London Marathon.

"So I don’t understand why the events would be cut when you’ve got the potential to have these huge audiences, especially right now you’ve got people who would love to watch athletics or distance running on the television.

"They can relate to it, so the longest distance at the British Championships (to be covered) would have been the 5k, that’s a park run (distance), the general public can relate to that.

“It just makes no sense and I just think the governing body need to start fighting for the athletes.

“I love watching the sprints, but that’s not relatable to the general public and if that’s who they care about then that’s who they need to cater to.”

Partridge (centre) says athletics as a whole needs more coverage (PA)

She also believes that the ‘power structure’ between broadcasters and the governing body is ‘wrong’.

She added: "Athletics is really good at screwing itself over sometimes. The power structure is a bit wrong, it seems a bit the other way round."

Around 1.03 million viewers watched the Stockholm Diamond League on the BBC last month, whereas last year the same event drew just below 20,000 viewers on Eurosport, emphasising the importance of being on a main channel.

The running star believes that with the latest technology and media streaming opportunities there is no reason why every event can’t be shown. 

She added: "People tune in to five hours of coverage to the London Marathon. There’s enough time and media streaming opportunities that there’s no reason why all the events can’t be streamed.

"Even if there is the main coverage you can have events on the red button, you can have an internet stream for certain events, but someone at the top has to care enough to sort it out.

"With World Athletics, I think there is this whole ‘we need to make athletics relevant in this modern era of fast news’ (approach) and I think it’s really short-sighted to say ‘oh we are going to get rid of all events that are longer than 30 seconds'.

"Because actually your hardcore athletics fans will sit and watch it. Cutting events doesn’t make an event more relevant, it makes it disappear.”

She also believes that it will have a detrimental effect on younger girls as the lack of coverage may have a negative impact on the next generation of athletes. 

Partridge said: "You can’t be what you can’t see, if they don’t know that being a female athlete is a career choice, they can’t choose it.

"So it’s the same if athletics isn’t on the TV then they don’t get that exposure and they don’t know it’s a thing unless they’ve got someone around them that are into athletics.

“If it’s not on mainstream media which is what they are consuming then they don’t know it exists. I just think the sport as a whole needs more coverage.”

Partridge won the British Half Marathon in both 2018 and 2020 (Instagram: Lily Partridge)

Partridge now has her sights set on the London Marathon which was postponed from April to October 4 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 It will now take place behind-closed-doors with elite athletes only. 

She said: "I trust the team at London Marathon implicitly. The event will be brilliant but it will just be different from what the London Marathon usually is.

"I don’t think as an athlete it has a major impact, it’s obviously disappointing. The thing that makes London Marathon is the crowds and the atmosphere but that’s just not possible at the moment.

“The crowds are the most incredible thing about the event and the amount of people on the streets. But we are there to do a job and we can give people a good race to watch on the television.”

And with it being her favorite event on the running calendar, she is aiming for a personal best and is looking to have a strong season. 

She added: “I would like a personal best in the marathon, it will be nice to be back racing but we will just have to see what shape I’m in.

"London Marathon is one of the best, if not the best marathon in the world. I want to experience some of the others like New York and Boston which are meant to be incredible."

But ultimately she is looking to be selected for the Great Britain squad ahead of the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

She will need a personal best to qualify but is not sure when she will get the opportunity, as British Athletics will need to host a separate event or use an event already on the calendar to act as the GB Olympic trials. 

She says that wearing a 'crop top and shorts' is her work outfit which can sometimes be misinterpreted on social media (Instagram: Lily Partridge)

Partridge also took time to discuss one of the pressures away from the track - social media and how people make judgements on the basis of comments or pictures without knowing anything about the person.

"They can take something you’ve put on social media and take that as ‘that’s you’. Instagram is a screenshot of a moment, it’s not the whole picture. 

"That gets a bit lost sometimes on social media and people give their opinions on their interpretation on what they’ve seen you post online.

"You’ve just got to be blunt and shut it down. I’m not scared of the block or unfollow button. I think the society we live in hypersexualises women’s bodies. 

"My Instagram is pictures of me in crop tops and shorts because that’s my work outfit. My body looks the way it looks because it does the job that it does. 

“When I retire my body will change but my worth doesn’t change.”

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