During the first half of the nineteenth century, athletics had been dominated by the upper middle classes who had experienced athletics at public schools, at universities and in the army. However, during the 1860s and 1870s, athletics became a popular national sport and working men in the North and the Midlands in particular were drawn to the sport. Many local clubs, run by committees, were set up and these often held open meetings and competitions which attracted large numbers of spectators. The Amateur Athletic Club, founded in 1866, was one of the principal clubs and it organised an annual national championship. However, there was growing concern about malpractice and corruption in the sport arising out of betting practices and the requirement to make a clear distinction between amateurs and professionals. In 1879 representatives of northern clubs had established the Northern Counties Athletic Association (NCAA) in order to regulate the sport of athletics in the north of England. In February 1880, Frank Smith, the Secretary of the Birmingham Athletic Club invited clubs in the Midlands to send delegates to a meeting on 1 March to consider forming a Midland Counties Athletic Union to regulate similarly the sport in the midlands. The Midland Counties Amateur Athletic Association (MCAAA) was established at this meeting.
Following the establishment of the MCAAA and the NCAA, Montague Shearman, a former President of Oxford University Athletic Club and a member of the London Athletic Club intervened to ensure that there was national coordination and leadership for the sport. He invited delegates from the MCAAA, the NCAA and athletic and cross country clubs in the south to a meeting in April 1880 at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford to establish a national governing body and the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) was formed. The Association was to be managed by a General Committee composed of representatives of various athletics organisations, including the NCAA and the MCAAA, and other elected members and it was also agreed that the annual championship meeting was to be held in different parts of England in rotation.
Athletics remained a sport for men until the 1920s when women entered the sport. The independent men's and women's organisations have now merged and the amateur-professional separation has been abandoned. In 1989, the MCAAA (founded in 1880) and Midland Counties Women's Amateur Athletic Association (MCWAAA, founded in 1925) amalgamated to form the Midland Counties Amateur Athletic Association. This now serves as the governing body for athletics within the Midlands
Sources: papers of the MCAAA; P. Lovesey, 'The Official Centenary of the Amateur Athletic Association', Enfield: Guiness Superlatives Limited, 1979; Richard Cox, Grant Jarvie and Wray Vamplew, 'Encyclopedia of British Sport', Oxford: ABC-CLIO Limited, 2000