Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Womble And The Running Tax

It’s strange what gets people’s juices going.

I’m a politically motivated person and most of the things that get my interest going take place far away from Womble On Tour’s immediate vicinity: restrictions on free speech or advertising, mind-bogglingly bad management of the economy, the arrest of an Opposition politician to name some specifics.

Occasionally though, something happens on a smaller scale but much closer to home which really winds me up, and I feel the old political passion, the fire burning inside me, which says “That’s wrong”. And I feel the need to do something. It's hard to explain; it’s as if some genetic switch has been flicked. I can’t rest until it’s been flicked back again. And it’s just happened.

Along with my two children I am a member of our local athletics club. We go once a week and have a run, or, in the summer, the children might have a go at long jumping or the javelin. It’s all quite civil and friendly, and I’m always heartened by the number of kids who go, fighting off obesity etc. The club is a good thing.

The other night, while waiting for my offspring to come back, I glanced down the notice board. I saw a notice that the subscriptions had been raised (I already knew this, and I’ve paid them) partly because (and this is the bit I didn't know) of the increased affiliation fee – from £3 to £5 - to England Athletics. And then I thought: “Hang on a minute…this has never been explained to me. Who are England Athletics, and why am I an affiliated member ?”

So I went onto their website, got some contact information, and wrote to them. And I got a very nice reply from their Head of Marketing & Strategy, explaining a few things:
...England Athletics is the National Governing Body for athletics in England (presumably my club is affiliated to it);’s a “private organisation that is publicly funded” (how does that work ?)
...“affiliation fees ensure participants are insured to compete under UK Athletics rules” is the prerogative of the individual whether they wish to be affiliated to England Athletics.

And then I looked again at my club’s membership application / renewal form. Nowhere does it explain that part of the subscription goes to England Athletics, or that membership of England Athletics is discretionary, or that we needn’t pay this £5 if we don’t feel like it.

And I am now like a man possessed. For me this evokes memories of the Trades Union closed shop (forced membership of an organisation) and the political levy (Trades Union subs going to the Labour Party) rolled into one. More than that – given that England Athletics gets most of its money from the government, the affiliation fee is tantamount to a tax – if the government cuts EA’s funding then affiliation fees will go up. So I’m paying a Running Tax, for me and my kids. And I didn’t even know about it.

That switch, that primeval feeling of something being wrong and the need to do something about it, has been pushed into action.

I have written to my club requesting that they explain fully, to all members, that part of the membership subscriptions go to a Third Party of which they are de facto a member. I’ve also demanded that they make an opt-out possible. I haven’t yet threatened to withhold the £5 on behalf of my children and myself, but I will do if they don’t play ball. And I ain’t resting until they do.

How many other sporting clubs secretly enlist you with a parent organisation and charge you for the privilege, I wonder ?

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