Athletics participation in the UK as has been steady in recent years, with approximately seven million people practising it at least twice a month. Roughly 27 million British pounds were funded by the government for athletics in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021. The turnover of UK Athletics, the governing body in the UK, balances around 25 million British pounds annually.
The history of athletics in the UK can be traced back at least as far as pre-industrial Britain, taking place at traditional fairs and festivals such as the Cotswold Olimpick Games. At these events lower class men would compete in a variety of archaic activities such as stick fighting, running, and wrestling. These activities were an opportunity for the lower classes to show off their athleticism to the village and as such were contemporaneously described as ‘athletics’ events.
These athletics events became extremely popular within larger towns and cities, after the mass migration associated with the industrial revolution, resulting in purpose-built athletics facilities in most major cities of the UK by the mid-nineteenth century. Enormous cash prizes were offered for the races, which became an extremely popular event within various society circles.
Owing to its popularity, athletics were included in the first modern Olympic Games held in 1896 and have been seen as one of the foremost competitions of the event ever since. Originally for men only, the 1928 Olympics saw the introduction of women's events in the athletics programme.
Athletics remain one of the most frequently participated in sports in the UK, with over 211 thousand people reporting having participated in a track and field activity at least twice in the past four weeks in England. As a result of this popularity, UK Athletics (UKA) received over 8.2 million British pounds of grant aid from UK Sport and Sport England, among others. UKA is the current governing body for athletics in the UK. With over 100 full-time employees, UKA is responsible for overseeing the governance of athletics events in the UK as well as athletes, their development, and athletics officials.