The big story of the past decade in athletics is how British athletics rose from the ashes. In the feeding frenzy over Alberto Salazar and the NOP, a pound of flesh was needed in GB and Neil Black was the focus. Black is affable and loved his job and his athletes. Was he too close to Salazar? Big question, and no obvious answers. Stuart Weir put together some thoughts on this and the lack of leadership within British athletics.
On Monday 7 October we all returned from Doha. On Tuesday afternoon UK Athletics issued the following statement:
“UK Athletics have announced that Neil Black will leave his role as performance director at the end of October.
Neil will commence a detailed handover with performance staff until his departure and will fulfil his role supporting Mo Farah at this weekend’s Chicago marathon”.
They added “We will not be making any further comment or making anyone available for interview at this time”.
While no reason was given, it is an obvious assumption that it is in response to the Salazar affair. In 2015 when Alberto Salazar was coaching Mo Farah, Black had said Salazar was a “genius” and a UK Athletics review concluded that there was “no cause for concern”. In 2017 Mo Farah severed his links with Salazar.
Neil Black clearly made an error of judgment about Salazar – in his 2015 comments – but did it merit his dismissal? I am not convinced. Was Black solely responsible for Salazar’s relationship with and involvement in UKA? I doubt it. In fact since 2015, UKA has had three chairmen and three CEOs (one interim).
One of the articles I read on the subject this week – albeit not written by a track and field expert – referred to Black needing to take responsibility for GB’s worst performance at a World Championship since 2005. Worst performance only in terms of medal count. As GB won five medals as compared to six in 2007, that doesn’t seem to me a monumental disaster. As I have written elsewhere there were several very creditable fourth and fifth place finishes. Three examples: Women’s 4 by 400m relay. The GB girls were second in 2017 but running 2 seconds faster were fourth in 2019 and they were fourth only because the disqualified Jamaicans were re-instated. Callum Hawkins’s fourth place in the Marathon was a magnificent performance not a failure. In 2017 the women’s 1500m was won in 4:02.59. In 2019 Laura Muir ran 3:55.76 and was fifth!! Another failure perhaps?
Medals on the world stage are hard to win, I do not regard GB’s 5 medals and several near misses a failure.
So nine months out from the Olympics, UKA finds itself with a new chair, new CEO and no performance director. Not a great place to be.
I always liked Neil Black, found him helpful and friendly. I for one am sorry to see him go.