UK Sport has released a summary of its findings following its review of UK Athletics.
The report follows UK Sport’s announcement in February that they would be conducting a review into UK Athletics. The review followed a number of high profile issues including the relationship between UK Athletics and Alberto Salazar’s ‘Oregon Project’. Its stated aims were to;
a. define the key components of a ‘fit for the future’ NGB for Athletics in the UK, with specific reference to UKA’s strategy, leadership, governance, operation, culture, and connectivity within the sport;
b. identify and recommend areas of change and organisational development, that may improve UKA and the wider sport; and
c. identify areas for any subsequent phases of review.
Scars and mistrust
The summary of the findings highlighted several key concerns regarding UK Athletics stating;
“The scars inflicted as a result of the period of difficulty within Athletics are clear to see. The impression formed during the review was that Athletics in the UK is not (currently) in a good position”
The report talks in particular about a culture of mistrust and raises challenges in the relationship between UKA and the Home Country Athletics Federations. It states the “UKA were accused of adopting a defensive approach to the engagement with stakeholders” highlighting that some contributors stated “current state of Athletics ‘couldn’t get any worse’”.
In particular the findings highlight that what UK Sport describe as a complicated ‘Sportscape’ starting that
“Most participants found it difficult to accurately describe the Athletics stakeholder map, the routes of funding, and the various pathways within the sport”
Beyond this culture was also highlighted as a key concern;
“lack of clarity of the roles and responsibilities are perhaps contributors to the pervasive culture that has existed within the sport. Other factors include the drive for medals, the individual nature of the sport, as well as the reflection of national politics under devolution.”
Appetite for progress
The report though does highlight some reasons to be optimistic. It highlights that the new leadership within UKA has brought with it a more collaborative approach and that this has been well received in the sport. The report specifically highlights coaching as one example;
“An agreement was reached on the appointment of a Head of Coaching who would lead on a strategy for Coaching for Athletics in the UK (a current gaping hole within the sport). The developments in this area could be used as an example of the benefits of the Athletics bodies working together.”
The report also gave praise to the Paralympic World Class Programme highlighting the “transparency in relation to decision-making, and a general collaborative approach.”
The review has led to the development of a ‘Change Plan‘ for UK Athletics including several key areas of focus;
Strategic Alignment and Collaboration – UKA and the Home County Athletics Federations to co-develop a long-term UK-wide strategy and framework agreement for the sport of athletics across the UK.
Leadership and Governance – UKA to reform its Board and Members Council in order to implement a more effective and collegiate style of leadership and governance. The findings summary includes the statement;
“It is paramount that the previous ‘stone-throwing’ culture is eradicated, and a more positive, collaborative approach is adopted.”
Recommended actions also include reaffirming the Articles of the UKA, giving each HCAF a seat on the UKA Board, radically rethinking the UK Members Council.
Thematic Changes – UKA to deliver projects as a priority in the following areas:
– Ethical decision making and culture
– New communications strategy
– Shared services study
Response from UKA
In a joint press release UK Athletics and the four Home Country Athletics Federations said that they welcomed the findings of the review and that they were committed to “working together positively and collectively to support the recommended change plan.”
Nic Coward, Chair of UK Athletics said:
“UK Athletics welcomes the report by Sue Street and the change plan. It captures what we have heard very strongly from across the sport, that there is a need for change. That is what we will be getting on with.
“We’re committed to working with all involved in the sport and are already doing so, particularly with the Home Countries, to implement change for the good of athletics.”
Myra Nimmo Chair of England Athletics on behalf of the EA Board said:
“There is now the opportunity for all Home Countries Athletics Federations and UKA to consider how best to shape the future organisation of athletics throughout the UK. Through the direction provided by the already jointly agreed vision document “An Athletics Nation” we look forward to the development of a unified strategy which efficiently delivers athletics from grassroots to elite.”
The jointly agreed ‘An Athletics Nation‘ document identified 10 ‘themes’ or areas of focus including ‘Clubs’, ‘Running’ and ‘Talent Development’ as well as ‘Medal Success’. The document could be seen to be an attempt to broaden the remit of the NGB and show a commitment to wider development and collaborative working beyond just a focus on medals for which it had received widespread criticism.
The review findings are released during a period of significant change and challenge for the governing body with what appears to be a different direction under new CEO Joanna Coates. Within the last 12 months former Chair Richard Bowker and then Chris Clark have both stepped down, Zara Hyde-Peters agreed she would not take up the position of chief executive followed allegations surrounding her husband and most recently Sarah Rowell, who led UK Athletics’ 2015 internal review into its handling of the Alberto Salazar affair, also stepped down.
The governing body will be hoping that the report draws a line under the uncertainty and criticism of recent years as it implements new ways of working with participants and athletes, clubs and coaches as well as the home nation governing bodies.
The UK Sport report summary highlighted the need for actions to be swift;
“it is recommended that a decision on the optimum course of action for the period of May – October 2020 be made swiftly and that all recommendations have clear timelines for implementation.”