Aberdeen Amateur Athletic Club president Mark Davidson has laid bare the battle north-east sports clubs like his are facing against spiralling costs.
Aberdeen AAC have been boosted in the past week by sponsorship from Mark’s long-time friend Andy Smith at Subsea Supplies Ltd. – a cash boost which will allow the Aberdeen Sports Village-based club to once again stage their popular series of winter indoor meetings.
The four meets, which are held from December to March, offer competitive athletics opportunities for not just AAAC members, but athletes from all over the north and elsewhere each winter.
Mark says securing a sponsor for the events, in what is a difficult financial climate for clubs including 2022 Aberdeen Sports Awards Club of the Year-winners AAAC, has also helped ensure the future of other initiatives like their weekly free kids’ athletics sessions in some of the Granite City’s most-deprived areas.
Mark said: “Like everybody else, the club is struggling with the cost of living crisis just now, and our costs have gone up through the roof with everything we’re doing to keep the club operational.
“One of the things the club want to do is keep sport accessible for everyone. A lot of the stuff we do in the community is geared at making sure under-represented groups get to take part.
“The sponsor coming in and helping us with the (winter) meetings keeps that going.”
Andy added: “I know the effort Mark has to put in, personally, to keep this all going, and I’m in the fortunate position where I can help out.
“I’ve not ever taken part in athletics, but I’m a sports fan and I know how much it means to Mark.”
Aberdeen AAC balancing bid to make athletics accessible to participants from all backgrounds with rising costs
Aberdeen AAC president for close to 10 years, Mark revealed the increasing financial challenge of keeping up club efforts to make athletics accessible to participants from all backgrounds.
AAAC hope to expand from four free kids’ athletics sessions per week, held in Garthdee, Northfield and at ASV, to “six or seven”, also covering Kincorth and Torry, from next year.
But funding these outreach sessions, including the paid officers and coaches who organise them, is a costly exercise.
A £27,000 grant from the Robertson Trust will fund part of those costs over the next four years.
However, AAAC also want the kids from the sessions to be able to become full club members, regardless of their circumstances.
And this means also providing discounted memberships, and highly-subsidised, or even free bus travel to competitions for their athletes.
These costs borne by the club mean the drive to get grants and sponsors like Subsea Supplies on board is a “full-time” effort at AAAC, Mark explained, with members’ annual fees only covering around 25% of the club’s total annual expenditure.
He said: “Our biggest cost which has gone up is probably our buses. It’s great we have this facility here and can put on competitions here – and the club’s probably put on more competitions than any other club in Scotland through the year.
“But, while we’ve got this, we probably spend just as many weekends away from here competing right across the country.
“We need to heavily subsidise the buses to make sure everybody can get there.
“Our bus fares in the past 12 months have probably been up at £7,000.
“We take in a small bus fare from those who can afford it, but some of the athletes will travel free, depending on their background.”
Despite the club’s best efforts to make athletics affordable for all, Mark attributes AAAC’s total membership remaining below pre-Covid levels to the burden of families from the increased cost of living.
This is despite membership fees for their approximately 350 members being kept as low as possible across the board, he added.
Fortunately, thus far, AAAC have not had to stop any part of their operation, as they open athletics opportunities up and support as many people as possible – whether it’s youngsters from the cities poorest areas or Olympians like 400m sprinter Zoey Clark.
But Mark said: “The travel one’s the difficult one, and I think we’re lucky we’ve had more meetings here than we normally do, which helps balance the numbers a little bit.
“I wouldn’t want to stop anything that’s the thing, because what’s a priority and what isn’t?
“While we do deliver the free sessions, there is a cost associated for the club, so it would be the simple thing to stop that. But I don’t think that would be fair on those kids from under-represented areas.
“We have to weigh up what’s important for the club. We have the Zoey Clarks and the next wave of those athletes. We can’t just neglect them – they’ve been in the club seven, eight, nine years or longer some of them. We have to make sure there’s the support for them and where they need to get to in the sport.
“But where do you get the next ones coming in behind them?”