Each year the British Athletics Writers Association makes its awards for Athletes of the Year, as judged by its members, which included most of the sports written press.   Typically this takes place at its Annual Awards Luncheon, but due to Covid restrictions, The Awards Luncheon in 2021, like the 2020 version did not take place and the awards were instead issued virtually via Press release and Social Media.

The awards include the prestigious Ron Pickering Trophy for Services to Athletics, named in honour of Ron Pickering, and supported by the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, and is awarded to someone that has given lifelong service to the sport, that has also had an impact on the work of the journalists.   The deserving 2021 recipient is Mark Butler, who has worked as Athletics Statistician with BBC for over 30 years, and also compiles the Statistics Handbook for Major Events such as World Championships and Olympic Games for World Athletics.

Mark, on receiving the news of his award, said: “ I can’t tell you how much this means to me. You know how much I treasured the brief time I worked with Ron in the 1980s and it’s a huge honour to be recognised by BAWA.”

Over the years the list of recipients has included former athletes, coaches and administrators, but has also recognised the important work of great statisticians that work tirelessly behind the scenes to provide that facts and figures that make the commentators and journalists look good.

Previously the Ron Pickering Trophy has been awarded to the doyen of Athletics Statisticians: Mel Watman, who sadly passed away just a few months ago, and Stan Greenberg, who preceded Mark at the BBC and worked alongside Ron Pickering for 25 years.

Mark said: “I was lucky enough to work with Ron in the late 1980s, but long before then, it was a book written by Ron and the great Mel Watman (Athletics 1974) which got me hooked on Athletics.”

“The TV Producer that gave me my first break in 1984, told me, in the nicest possible way, that they were looking for someone that was ‘already a bit sad and obsessed with facts and figures’  because they could not teach anyone to do that!”     Mark acknowledged “I am glad to be a bit sad as that is what it takes to get the job done!”

Mark is a keen Masters Athlete, until recently he has been competing and has regularly taken part in numerous media races, although is currently recovering from surgery on a torn patella tendon.  He also regularly provides essential meeting data and background information on the competitors for the world athletics media, in a format that has become known as “The Butlers”…. often delivered in the early hours of the morning as he regularly works through the night pulling the information together.

Mark’s primary function for the BBC is to sit alongside the commentators in the commentary box, providing them with fascinating facts, or clicking his stopwatch to get lap times and relay splits.  He also achieved a certain level of fame when his name was brought up at least twice by a very excited Steve Cram during the live coverage of the final stages of Mo Farah’s 5,000m victory at London 2012, that ended up going viral on the internet!

Typical of Mark, he would prefer it if he went unnoticed. “It’s my job to make them look good,” he said. “I don’t want my name to be mentioned, I want the broadcast to be seamless. If I’m doing my job properly, I shouldn’t be mentioned anyway.”