Amateur by name

The WAAA, like the AAA, was a wholly amateur organisation from the outset. All positions from secretaries to local committee members to coaches were honorary.

There was no prize money for competitors, although there were prizes. Medals were awarded and for some non-Championship races there were canteens of cutlery, furniture, or crockery to be won.

The strict amateur nature of the WAAA, along with its independence, was guarded fiercely as the WAAA Executive response to proposed restructuring of the British Amateur Athletics Board in the late 1960s shows:

“It is obvious that women’s athletics in Great Britain has not suffered by remaining amateur and we could not, therefore, agree at any time to our sport becoming professionalised.”
WAAA Executive

Ethel Scott is pictured here in 1929 in her Middlesex Ladies’ Athletics Club kit with the various prizes she won at WAAA competitions in the 1920s as a sprinter.
In 1930, Scott ran an 11.1sec 100m and a 7.45sec 60m, earning her a place in the England Team for the third Women’s World Games, making her the first black British woman to represent England and later Great Britain in international athletics. The 4 x 100m relay team of Ethel Scott, Daisy Ridgely, Eileen Hiscock and Ivy Walker won silver at the third Women’s World Games.

The changing landscape of international athletics was brought into focus at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. 19 of the 23 female British athletes had jobs around which training had to be fitted. They were up against state sponsored athletes who could devote all their time to training, and for the first time since 1932 the British women’s team won no medals at an Olympic Games.

The late 70s and early 80s began to see a shift, athletes competing for prize money were no longer banned by the WAAA from competing. Wendy Sly, distance runner and 3000m Olympic silver medallist at the 1984 Los Angeles Games began competing on the American Road Circuit in 1981, the first British athlete to do so, using the prize money from this to fund her training back in the UK.

By the 1990s the shift towards funding and professionalism of the sport was well on the way towards the model we recognise today.