Ian Bettie, photo by British Athletics
Stephen Maguire, photo by British Athletics
BMC Jake Wightman, with Wendy Sly, British Athletics Writers Association, photo by BAWA
Stuart Weir wrote this piece to get us caught up on the goings on across the proverbial pond, UK Athletics.
The continuing story of governance at UK Athletics.
It’s been a challenging period for UK Athletics but for once we’re able to comment on positive developments. But before that a recap of how we got here.
Jo Coates was appointed CEO of UK Athletics in early 2020 and resigned in October 2021. Coates did a number of good things but the general verdict on her was that she never really understood the sport and made a number of disastrous appointments, and also getting rid of a number of outstanding staff. Dismantling the best athletics media team in the world can be added to her negative balance.
I remember Coates telling me shortly after her appointment that to be a performance director, you did not need any background in the sport. Her appointment of Sara Symington, as performance director, in most observers’ eyes disproves that theory. General consensus within the sport is that Symington never really got athletics. Her tweet at the end of a week in which she had chosen athletes to receive and lose funding – career changing decisions – and briefed the press on her future plan, before announcing her departure to British Cycling with the words “couldn’t be happier”, was crass and utterly insensitive. Another of Coates’ appointments, Christian Malcolm, as head coach, has failed to gain the confidence of his constituency.
Scarcely had the ink on Coates’ resignation letter dried, when UKA announced that Cherry Alexander – considered to have nothing to offer to the Coates regime – was re-joining the organisation as the UK Athletics Major Events and International Relations Lead. It was a very popular announcement.
Then the appointment of Ian Beattie as chairman of UKA met unanimous approval in the wake of three short-lived chairmen. Beattie, formerly chairman of Scottish Athletics, is simply a man of the sport – a runner, a race organizer – an accountant and the CEO of a law firm in his spare time. The appointment of Mark Munro, Development Director of UKA, as acting CEO was also well received. The announcement of the invitation of applications for the post now called Technical Director, with a requirement that applicants have a thorough knowledge of athletics was another encouraging development.
Then the wheels threatened to come off again, when the attempt to recruit a technical director failed. Following the recruitment process and interviews, the statement said: “it has become clear that a small number of desired candidates are unable to leave their current respective roles until after the 2022 summer season”. As result it was decided to make some internal changes and establish a management group of the external experts. Two internal candidates Tommy Yule and Steve Paulding were appointed cover the Head of Performance and Head of Operations posts on an interim basis, leaving the organization with an interim CEO and an interim “Technical Director”.
An announcement of the commencement of the search process for a CEO, earlier this year was accompanied by a statement that Interim CEO, Mark Munro, had confirmed that he would not be applying for the permanent role of CEO at this time for personal reasons but would remain at UKA returning to his previous post, overseeing development. This was a disappointment to many, feeling that Munro had done well as interim CEO and that, unlike his predecessor, he was listening to the sport. One slightly cynical observer commented that the situation had the potential for UKA to make the “Jo Coates mistake” again.
This week saw two more announcements. Firstly, there was the appointment of two non-executive members of the UKA board. Now, I have to say, that the appointment of board members rarely gets me excited but the appointment of Marilyn Okoro and Wendy Sly did just that. Adding people with a wealth of knowledge of the sport was just good news. Okoro is a medal winner at Olympic, World and European level. And as the press release stated, “Outside of competition she is highly regarded in championing mental health, social mobility and athlete welfare, and is a graduate of an accredited programme in corporate governance”. I may be biased having known Maz since 2008 and she looks a brilliant appointment. Then there is Wendy Sly, silver medalist in the 1984 Olympic 3000m race, who has spent a career in publishing and sports management and who is currently managing director of AW (the monthly magazine, previously called Athletics Weekly, if you see that I mean).
Christine Ohuruogu and Marilyn Okoru, 2008, photo by Stuart Weir
Marilyn commented: “I am elated to have been appointed to the board of UKA. As an athlete you want to be involved and help the sport and I am thrilled with this opportunity. The sport is in my blood, and I hope that I can help bridge the gap between the board and the sport and provide an athlete voice.
Wendy said: “I’m thrilled to be involved in a new era, not just for UKA but for the whole sport in the UK. I’ve spent 50 years of my life in the sport that I love and I am honoured to have this opportunity to join the board at this exciting time.
Christine Ohuruogu, Moscow 2013, photo by World Athletics
More good news came when the names of the group of the external experts to assist in the performance area was announced. The names announced were Steve Cram, Stephen Maguire and Christine Ohuruogu. Cram, World, European and Commonwealth Gold medalist (Olympic silver) is a regular TV athletics commentator as well as coaching elite athletes. Christine Ohuruogu won two world championship gold medals as well as the Olympic gold and silver at 400m. Stephen Maguire was the mastermind of the GB sprint relay successes and seemed the outstanding candidate for the post of performance director which went to Sara Symington. Maguire is currently Head of High Performance Coaching at Sport Ireland.
The addition of these five outstanding people to the UK athletics team is good news. Of the inability to appoint a technical director at the right level and the continuation of the situation with an acting CEO who will soon leave the post is a cause for concern.
See previous posts of UK Athletics Governance
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