ALTHOUGH British Athletics may be thriving on the track, with the forthcoming Manchester Commonwealth Games boosting the popularity of the sport like never before, the infrastructure of athletics appears to be falling apart at the seams.

The likes of Shaftesbury Barnet Stadium and the Roger Bannister venue are facing closure, at least in the immediate future leaving London Clubs with limited facilities to train.

Even with vast sums of money being thrown at the sport to improve Britain's performances in major events, this will be of little use if there is nowhere to groom potential stars of tomorrow. As in every sport, if the infrastructure is not in place at grass roots level, what chance is there of a talented crop of sportsmen and women coming through?

The fact then that Watford's Woodside Stadium now one of the premier Athletics venues in the South of England keeps going from strength to strength is good news for the town and athletics in general, and with disabled sports in the area also set for a major boost, Woodside Stadium continues to buck the trend.

Watford Council and Watford Harriers Woodside Stadium's home athletics club have joined forces to improve facilities at the Stadium for disabled athletes.

A new road will be installed from the Clubhouse car-park off Horseshoe Lane to the edge of the running track to allow quick and direct access for ambulances, and, more importantly for disabled athlets, a new pathway will be laid form the clubhouse to the track, allowing wheelchair athletes to make full use of the track.

The problem it seems is that although the track is suitable for wheelchair racing, the dynamics of a racing wheelchair means it is nigh on impossible to go uphill on them. The new pathway would give easy access to the wheelchair athletes in reaching, and exiting, the track.

Newly elected Mayor for Watford Dorothy Thornhill was one of the major driving forces behind the move.

She said: "Taking the decision to put in place the finances required to allow for better access for all members of the community was relatively easy, based on our commitment to make the services provided by the Council available to all.

"The stadium not only hosts a number of major events every year including the County Schools championships but also provides a venue for many of the local schools and this investment will ensure that every school will now be able to take advantage of this valuable asset"

This development is just the latest in the long line of developments which has established the track as one of South of England's finest.

Originally opened in 1955 by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Woodside Stadium was instantly one of the most modern tracks in the country.

In 1995, a further development of the stadium saw Watford Borough Council invest a substantial sum in bringing the stadium up to date by increasing the track to eight lanes which enabled it to be used to host national events.

Since then, further development has seen the construction of the Watford Harriers Clubhouse, funded by the council and a Sports England lottery grant and within the last few months the installation of a new pole vault area, essential both for safety reasons and in maintaining the stadiums position as one of the regions major athletics venues.

Running parallel to the new building work will be a program organised by Watford Harriers which will set up a training course for both coaches and officials which aims to introduce these groups to working with disabled athletes.

With the first of these courses set to take place at the end of August, Dr Ian Thompson, secretary of the British Wheelchair Racing Association (BWRA) is delighted at the developments.

"The BWRA promotes wheelchair racing throughout the UK and is very supportive of the initiative of Watford in extending its facilities to allow greater access for wheelchair athletes and disabled athletes generally," he said.

"It is by improving the access to sporting facilities and coaching in the athletes' local areas which will have the most impact on them reaching their potential and aspirations, be that recreational or future Paralympic champion."

Constant in all the recent developments has been Watford Harriers, whose hard work has continually seen the Stadium move forward. The new improvements will see more youngsters, as well as adults, being given the opportunity to take up the sport, but this is a welcome problem as Chairman Vaughn Tayler explained.

"One of our longer serving members Muriel Hewlett has been campaigning for a number of years for increased access to the track and I am pleased that she has been successful, however, whilst it is hoped that we shall have some competitions for the disabled before the end of the year, the priority will be the provisions of the access onto the track and also specialist sports equipment.

Watford Harriers have always had an open door policy and I am pleased that progress is now being made in this area."

In this day and age, catering for disabled athletics is a must in the modern world of sport. Now Woodside will soon be able to cater for the needs of the disabled athlete, it will be able to truly call itself a top athletics venue, but, more importantly, give many more young athletes the chance to take up the sport, safeguarding, the club's, stadium's and sport's future.

June 21, 2002 11:30