End of an era

The WAAA remained fiercely independent for many years, perhaps not surprising as those in positions of authority in the 1970s and 80s were those who, as athletes in the 1920s and 30s remembered only too well the era when the AAA wanted nothing to do with women’s athletics. 

The Byers Report, commissioned in 1967 by the AAA and the British Amateur Athletics Board, recommended bringing all of the individual bodies, the men’s and women’s of each home nation, as well as cross country which was at this time doing its own thing, into one governing body headed by a Director of British Athletics. The WAAA responded:     

We cannot accept this report, we do not consider it would be of any benefit to us.

WAAA response to Byers Report, 1967

The WAAA competition structure continued to develop athletes such as Sally Gunnell, Tessa Sanderson and Fatima Whitbread, all of whom won WAAA championships and would go on to compete at the highest levels for both England and Great Britain.

However, throughout the 1970s and 80s proposals for an amalgamated WAAA and AAA began to come through from club level, the argument; “pooling the resources and experience…must inevitably bring about a stronger governing body for athletics as a whole”,  was strongly countered by warnings that the voice of women’s athletics would be muted by becoming part of a single governing body but the move towards a combined governing body was underway. In 1991 the WAAA and AAA officially combined, the WAAA essentially ceasing to exist, in order to become the Amateur Athletic Association of England.

In reality, the intertwining of women’s and men’s athletics had been underway for a while on some levels. WAAA coaches had been able to qualify as AAA coaches since the late 1950s, at club level cross over between women’s and men’s was beginning to occur, and at national level the first combined AAA and WAAA championship took place at Alexander Stadium, Birmingham over three days in 1988. But it was in 1991, after nearly 80 years, that saw the official end of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association as an independent governing body.