This is an exciting piece for RunBlogRun. Stuart Weir interviewed Jo Coates in May 2020 for AW and RunBlogRun. This is part 1 of part 4. Jo Coates is the new CEO of UK Athletics. The success of UK Athletics over the past fifteen years is being challenged on all sides. Jo Coates tells Stuart Weir that she loves a good challenge. Well, she will see that in her new position. We wish her much luck!
New CEO of UK Athletics
Ed Warner was Chairman of UK Athletics for ten years from 2007 to 2017. During this period Niels de Vos was chief executive (2007-2018). Such a period of stability seems very enviable from the current perspective of the state of the organization.
Richard Bowker, an independent director of the Football [Soccer] League was appointed as chairman to replace Warner. Bowker lost the confidence of the Board and others in the sport and was gone by January 2019. Sarah Rowell, Chris Clark and currently, Nic Coward have served as interim chairs in the past 18 months.
It took 18 months for UKA to appoint a CEO to replace de Vos. When Zara Hyde Peters, former head of British Triathlon was appointed in November 2019, the appointment was cancelled before she started when an allegation was made against her husband.
A new CEO has been appointed, Jo Coates. Coates worked for seven years for Sports Photography agency and then spent four years as Commercial Director of the Conference Football (Soccer) League – the fifth tier of English Soccer. She spent 10 years at England Netball, initially as Head of Marketing, Commercial and Events and then five years as CEO.
Netball is game similar to basketball but played only by women. It is probably the most popular school sport for girls. According to the England Netball website over one million women and girls in England play netball each week.
She worked briefly for the London Legacy Development Corporation, which was set up to use the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of the London 2012 Games and the creation of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to develop a dynamic new heart for east London and to deliver the Olympic legacy promises made in the original London 2012 Games bid.
Stuart Weir had an exclusive interview with Coates in May 2020 to find out more about the new CEO and to hear about her vision for the sport.
What do regard as your best achievements in Netball?
Everyone points to the Commonwealth Games gold medal, which was the first time we’d ever done it and that was amazing. But for me, I still believe, it was the growth in grassroots and that people are now proud of their sport. That is what I think my greatest achievement was. Now I work for a sport where delivery at the elite level is really important. My heart is in trying to join up that pathway from grassroots to elite so that everyone has an amazing experience in sport. For me, seeing netballers who were truly proud of their sport – grass roots up to elite – was the achievement.
What do you regard as your personal strengths?
I always hate being asked questions like this because you look as if you’ve got a massive ego but I think if I have to analyse what I can do, I think I have a good strategic brain. I think I can look at an organization or a business, know where it needs to get to and strategically guide it to that place. And if you can do that, you do need a certain amount of resilience and strength and the ability to make change but not alienate people when you make that change. I’m also quite a people person; I like to make sure that we bring people with us and deal with people in a very fair way. So I think my greatest skill is clarity around creating strategy and then how you deliver that strategic plan.
I read a quote from you “Challenge excites me. I’m not good at easy jobs”.
Very true! My husband would support me on this. My time at London Legacy was fabulous, an amazing organization. Incredible, true Olympic legacy at the park but it didn’t have the amount of stress that I like. Even my children were like, “mum, why do you want to go back to the stress? You’ve got a really nice, well paid job”. But I just missed it. I need that in my life. I need stress; I need pressure. I need to feel that I’m being challenged all the time.
After I’d been in this job for three weeks, working 18-hour days – getting up early, not sleeping, writing notes, my husband turned to me and said “you’ve got your sparkle back”. But even he’s asking: “why do you love this?” but I just do. If it is something you are passionate about – and I am passionate about what sport delivers to people – you’re making a difference to people’s lives.
Tell me about your time working for the Football Conference.
It was an amazing thing to do. I love all sport and I do love football. I had been working for a sports photo agency. I’ve been really lucky to understand what governing bodies did, what media outlets did and what brand did. I had a really good overview of the sports world. I’ve also been very lucky that people have thought of me for jobs. The conference needed someone to go in and revamp it commercially – sponsorship and TV – and also to change the perception of the league. Someone who knew me said, “you’d be great for that”. And they approached me about the job.
I had some wonderful years there. A woman in a man’s world, goodness me! There were no women in football and I had a seat on the board of the Football Conference and a vote. I had a wonderful few years there working with incredible people, learning so much about sport, about leagues, about clubs. I loved my time there. I must admit some funny things happened which would now be seen as being incredibly politically incorrect. But it was an immense learning curve. It was a tiny organization so I was given a lot of responsibility.
In Part 2 we will learn more of Coates’ approach to the job and her vision for the future of track and field in the UK.