Big Questions 4: Competitions – Jamie Cook

In a week which has included England’s top young coarse anglers across three age groups competing at their World Championships in Slovenia, Team Ringer Baits emerging victorious from the 200 peg Feeder National and with the Division 1 National Championship taking place on the river Trent this Saturday, Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook takes time to address some of the big questions and issues around competition angling and to bust a few myths that have been doing the rounds for far too long.


The Angling Trust competitions division is one of the busiest parts of our organisation.  The sheer number and variety of competitions we run means this area of the organisation is never quiet. Currently five full time staff members design, manage, promote, ticket, co-ordinate and deliver almost 300 competitions, selling tens of thousands of tickets and servicing over 2,500 individual customers annually. In addition, these same staff members support and administer 36 international England teams and upwards of 250 individual anglers plus managers, support staff and volunteers. Whether it’s helping to secure sponsorship, banking and budgeting, dealing with clothing orders or supporting young or vulnerable anglers and their families with safeguarding activities, we do the lot. It’s an enormous workload and, although it can sometimes be a thankless task, I’m grateful to every one of them for their hard work and commitment.

When I met with Sport England in May 2020 and secured agreement that angling would be the first sport in the entire country permitted to begin competition again post COVID thousands of new members joined the Angling Trust, and we received hundreds of messages of thanks and appreciation. However, alongside this the Angling Trust competitions team had to deal with some unpleasant vitriol and personal abuse from individuals who simply had no clue or comprehension of how hard that team had worked to ensure that whether you were competing in FishOMania, or a 20-peg knock up on the local cut you were permitted to do so legally and safely. We represented competition angling of all disciplines at the highest levels of government to bring us out of the COVID lockdown and we secured our sport ahead of almost every other national sport governing body.  I guess this was lost on those whose only contribution was sitting on the sofa and complaining on social media that they couldn’t go fishing where and when they liked.

We are an organisation who cares deeply about competition angling and who has big ambitions to deliver more grass roots events in multiple disciplines. We want to provide better support, transparency of selection and resource to our elite teams across all three disciplines. I’ll be the first to admit that prior to my appointment competitions have not always been top of the list of priorities within the Angling Trust but we are on a new path now and I wanted to address some of those regular questions and rumours which crop up time and again.

Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook and England ladies international Julie Abbott competing at the Angling Trust Division 2 Coarse national last year. Julie and her team mates are traveling out to France this week to compete in the World Championships and are just one of the teams who will be looking for a new sponsor in 2023.

Why do you have to join Angling Trust to fish some competitions?

We are a membership organisation, and we provide services to our members, we campaign for you, we offer hands-on support to clubs and fisheries and through Fish Legal we will take battles to court on your behalf. We don’t run our competitions to make money, we run them to deliver a programme of varied and accessible events to our members.

Our entry fees are comparatively low when you consider the total pay outs and as a member you have access to multiple events every year. Where we have trialled a member’s price and non-member’s price we sell hardly any non-member tickets and many of our events sell out in double quick time, so we are not creating barriers to entry.

Most sports operate on an affiliation basis – if you want to compete or enter a league as a team or individual you need to be a member of that sport’s governing body. If you look at fishing across Europe, then in some countries you need to be a member to even go fishing at all. This is why some international teams can afford to travel with their own chef and a huge support team as they are funded by the membership contributions of hundreds of thousands of anglers. I’m afraid I think we are some way from that scenario in England and I don’t detect any enthusiasm in these difficult times from other parts of our sport to cross subsidise competition fishing to any great extent.  Also remember that the EA do not invest into competitions either so not a penny of your licence fee goes to these areas like they may in Italy, France, or Holland.

Does the Angling Trust use competition anglers’ membership to subsidise other areas of work?

No – in fact quite the opposite is true. We publish annual accounts, and we break these down by business area. The amount of money we take in from competition anglers joining the Angling Trust is a fraction of what is required to resource the team of staff who deliver everything. Just under 2,500 individuals purchased one or more competition entry tickets from us in 2021, that equates to just over £65,000 of membership income or roughly 12% of our total membership number. Competitions expenditure exceeds £180,000 annually.

As you can see, we don’t run competitions to make money out of match anglers.

As the recognised National Governing Body for angling in England, where our objectives align Sport England invest into some of our work. Competitions not only promote regular participation, but they also offer pathways from grass roots to elite level participation both locally, through club and fishery infrastructure, right through to National Championships across multiple disciplines.

Competitions are also a brilliant means of increasing diversity and access to our sport and like many other sports a vibrant competitions programme offering opportunities for all within our community is the bedrock on which national governing bodies are built. Angling is no different and seeing the largest turnout since the Angling Trust was formed in our junior, youth, veterans, ladies and disabled coarse angling national championships this year shows how important it is to offer these opportunities.

We publish income and expenditure statements for all our national championships and these reveal that far from making a profit we lose money on some of these competitions. That’s just part and parcel of offering these opportunities to the match fishing community – if we were focused on making money we would run a completely different programme of events and we would turn a profit. There are plenty of commercial operators in the coarse angling sphere in particular who run events on this basis but as a not-for-profit organisation we commit to creating diverse opportunities and re-investing any surpluses we do generate into the community. In 2021 our coarse National Championships collectively generated £4,614 which was re-invested directly in 2022 to supporting Team England’s coarse squads, contributing to entry fees and clothing.

Ringer Baits, the winning team at the Angling Trust Feeder National 2022

Why don’t you publicise all pay outs, pools, and prizes for your events?

Contrary to some of the allegations I’ve heard on the rumour mill we do publish them.  Simply click here to see last year’s overview of the coarse national championships. We are committed to complete transparency wherever possible.

However, where we have external commercial partners, we are not able to publish full profit and loss statements for every event but they all feed into the annual accounts for all to see. And let’s be clear – 100% of pools will always be paid out.

On average we retain around 10% of the total income for an event which goes towards the staffing, management, and administration. This will contribute towards competitions staff salaries, fixed overheads like website, ticketing, banking, governance, safeguarding, insurance etc. So, if you pay your £20 to enter the Division 2 National Championships approximately £2 will go towards us delivering the programme, running the events, investing in events like the junior or disabled nationals which make a financial loss or if we can afford it, go towards supporting England teams with entry fees or even a polo shirt if they don’t have a sponsor. All the remaining money is spent on peg fees, stewards, HQs, parking, prizes, trophies and pay outs…it’s all detailed for each event. To suggest that money is used to subsidise other divisions or Angling Trust activities is simply incorrect.

Why do you run so many coarse competitions and hardly any in game or sea?

Put simply we are catering to our members and currently we do not have the level of competitions focused membership in these spheres to support the ambitions we have to run big competitions. This has a compound impact – as we make commitments to re-invest it means that when it comes to Team England in Game and Sea the cupboard is bare. We have put money this year from general membership into pathway events and development weekends in both game and sea but we don’t have resource to put into these disciplines because we don’t have the volume of members and we don’t have domestic programmes of competitions allowing us to re-invest directly.

I am currently working on plans for domestic sea angling and if we can get these launched with the correct partners then we will be able to invest more into the England teams…why would we not want to do so?

In game fishing it is different, Team England Fly Fishing (TEFF) maintain autonomy and as a result there is always some confusion.

The Angling Trust runs and administers a number of events in the game sphere and every penny generated goes to TEFF to distribute to the teams. We literally don’t take anything for the management, administration, ticketing, or delivery of these events. Basically, we do this for nothing and yet the myth is out there that we offer no support to game angling. Sometimes criticism is fair and other times I’m afraid you need to call it out for the nonsense it is.

TEFF distributes funding to game teams and we are working on plans for domestic sea competitions

Why are competition anglers not listened to or represented on the Angling Trust board?

In relation to the board then competition anglers are well represented – we have a vibrant and active competitions advisory group chaired by a board director with extensive competitions experience and attended by two further directors with competitions experience across different disciplines. We have Angling Trust directors and Fish Legal committee members fishing in national championships and two have this year qualified for the prestigious Riverfest final, so they are no mugs!

It’s worth remembering that all Angling Trust and Fish Legal directors and committee members with the exception of myself are unpaid volunteers who give up their time for free. You might see them measuring or weighing in at competitions on the shore or bank or co-ordinating bids to host World Championships over the coming months, have a chat to them…they will feed back concerns and help hold me and the team to account to ensure that we are delivering for you – our members.

I’m currently working with a group of experienced sea anglers to launch a new programme and we are committed to holding managers and captains wash up meetings in each discipline be that in relation to domestic team events or international championships. In 2021 we conducted a full consultation on the future of the coarse angling National Championships going not only to every team who had entered the previous year but inviting a further 200 lapsed teams to provide their input as to what would bring teams back to the event. We are run by anglers, for anglers and hugely value constructive feedback and input from our members to help improve our events.

Why do the Angling Trust not offer more financial support to the England teams?

As an amateur sport angling, like many other sports, receives zero government or lottery funding for elite level competition or talent development. This funding is administered by UK Sport and angling is competing with Olympic and Paralympic sport for any funding. I would love to reach a point where we could leverage funding for our elite England teams from UK Sport but that is currently not the case. Despite our phenomenal international record across game, sea and coarse disciplines and medal hauls which most sports could only dream of Team England relies on sponsorship, donations, fundraising and anglers paying to compete from their own pockets. Each year I have been involved I have increased the amount of resource we have invested directly into Team England, and this is a pattern I intend to continue. However, it relies on us generating income from competitions in the first place.

Some have asked why we don’t invest any resource we secure from Sport England into the teams – put simply we are not permitted to, it’s not within the scope of their investment into angling and we must utilise funding we secure transparently, honestly and for the purposes it was invested.

Who knows anything about match fishing at the Angling Trust?

With Steve Fitzpatrick, James Lewis, and Alex Dawson in the staff team we have strong competitions knowledge and with the likes of David Kent, Paul Page and Chris Clark taking active roles in our competition advisory groups we benefit from experience across multiple disciplines.

We spend a lot of time talking to competition anglers. Through COVID, Dave Harrell, Dean Barlow and Steve Ringer were hugely influential in helping us develop the When We Fish Again campaign and I personally speak to competition anglers and organisers, international managers, Team England representatives and members who fish our competitions every day.

I know Steve and the team spend a huge amount of time gaining feedback from prominent members of the community to help us shape and evolve our competitions and we have also allocated specific resource with a focus of developing our game and sea programmes.

We are currently recruiting for another staff member in the team to make sure we can keep up with the demands of running so many events so if you’d like to come and work for us in competitions please get in touch.

As someone who fishes the occasional match, I completely buy into why having inspirational and successful England teams across all disciplines acts as an inspiration for others. We have brought in Steve Fitzpatrick as Head of Competitions who adds a huge amount of experience and knowledge to the team – in his first few months Steve has secured long-term partnerships for a number of England teams and excitingly it’s not all coming from the angling trade. The coarse Under 20’s team finished in the silver medal position last weekend and did so with the support of a brand-new sponsor – SSB Group. Agreements like this will only be successful when our team work with the individual managers and anglers to ensure that we form the correct partnerships and then we generate high quality content and raise the profiles of the teams, the anglers and the sponsors… put simply that comes at a cost.

Look at the Under 15 team with Guru’s backing and the brilliant media work Matt Godfrey and his team deliver, or the Feeder team with Preston Innovations’ media team pulling the strings… even look at the way the angling community got behind the men’s coarse European Championship team who won a sensational gold this summer in Portugal.

The management teams, anglers, and the Angling Trust are now working together to increase the profile of Team England and we are starting to see positive results.

Of course, it’s just a start and we are nowhere near where we want to be but as a not-for-profit organisation when we generate income we can re-invest it directly. I’m delighted that for the most part the teams who have worked closely with me and the team in the last year have been able to generate support with some exciting new partnerships also in the pipeline and I look forward to working more closely with the anglers and managers, in particular of the game and sea angling teams to achieve similar progress and profile.

England Under 20 squad, silver medal winners at the recent World Youth Championships, were sponsored by SSB Group

So, what does the future hold?

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our sport and that is true in running competitions. We see brilliant independent events run 365 days a year across all three disciplines in every corner of the country but seldom do those local heroes get in touch and work with us to improve our events and deliver on the ground. If you are reading this and are passionate about running competitions, be they local grass roots or high-level commercial events then please get in touch.

We don’t need you to sign up exclusively and we are not in competition with any organiser or brand who want to make money or sell tackle though running competitions, we simply want to run great events for our members and re-invest back into the sport that you love.

Of course, we don’t always get things right – we modelled the bandwidth required to cope with the massive demand for FishOMania tickets again this year and still the site struggled to deal with thousands of anglers renewing their membership and attempting to secure tickets. We have had some frank conversations with our suppliers, and you can expect us to improve but it wasn’t for lack of planning and certainly not for lack of investment! When you are running 300-plus events per year mistakes will happen. They shouldn’t, but they will. People don’t make them on purpose and don’t deserve the level of abuse they sometimes receive for trying to sort things out.

As well as improved media coverage and promotion of our events you will also see more professional delivery, we have stated an ambition to run a Gold Standard in competitions and so we have to hold ourselves to high standards. As a result you will see improvements in ticketing and refund processes, quicker payments of pools and prizes, and earlier availability of competition materials for competitions…we know how much effort and investment anglers and teams make into these big competitions and we need to ensure we deliver that high standard of service.

We hope to bring more big international events to England but that can’t happen without teams who drive this forward. Rob Hughes, Bev Clifford and their team are hosting the Ladies World Carp Angling Championships at Linear Fisheries at the end of the month and we now have some top anglers and managers in multiple disciplines working to secure international events which give Team England the exposure and impetus they deserve.

Until last month not too many people knew who Georgia Stanway was, now she and her colleagues have the world at their feet… we are on a journey and we will all benefit if we can work together and get it right.

Thank you for supporting our events, for giving your time as a volunteer and for representing England. Good luck to those competing this weekend in the coarse Division 1 National – I hope the drawbag is kind!

All the best, Jamie

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