The release (posted here) announced that Christian Malcolm was leaving the UK Athletics. In this article, Stuart Weir, who has followed the problematic tenure of Christian Malcolm, put the tenure in perspective and considers the moves by UK Athletics’s Ian Beattie to be very good for the sport. It is really nice to see Stuart Weir happy about the direction of British Athletics and UK athletics. Truly, one of the stories of the last two decades in our sport has been the resurrection of British Athletics from financial ruin and mediocrity to the grooming of generations of fine athletes.
The challenges at both UK Athletics and British athletics have been top management, who seem to have had their own private agendas. I am not naive enough to think that this does not happen in other countries. What is sad is this, without strong leadership, athletes and coaches are lost in the maelstrom of crisis and undeveloped programs.
We wish UK Athletics and British Athletics the best in the future.
Christian Malcolm to leave UK Athletics
British Athletics has today announced that as part of a “revision to the UK Athletics performance plans and structures, backed by the UKA Performance Management Group and UK Sport, UK Athletics can confirm that the role of Olympic Head Coach – currently held by Christian Malcolm – will be discontinued after this summer’s European Championships in Munich. Other opportunities created as a result of the revised structure will be discussed with him over that period as a number of changes are made”.
The full statement by UK athletics is in a separate post. While the change is expressed in terms of a revision of structures, it is hard not to see this as the final stage of drawing a line under the Jo Coates era. I have written several pieces about Jo Coates, the former CEO of British Athletics. Coates did a number of excellent things while at the helm, but it is generally felt that her achievements were peripheral to the heart of the sport. She will be seen as having dismantled the best media team in the sport worldwide. It was never clear whether she was really committed to the role of UKA in running elite events. The departure of Stephen Maguire and Cherry Alexander (now happily back) was seen by many as catastrophic errors.
The first two appointments that Coates made were Sara Symington as performance director and Christian Malcolm as Olympic Head Coach. Diversity was one of Coates’ keywords, and to have as her first two appointments a woman and a black man suited the narrative. The reality was that, in the view of many, Sara Symington, while a gifted sports administrator, never really understood of the sport of athletics (track and field). Christian Malcolm was regularly described as a lovely man out of his depth. It seemed that he never really gained the confidence of the sport – the athletes, coaches, and administrators.
During the period that Malcolm was in post, there were regular rumors and stories of athletes and coaches being lied to. In November 2021, when the new chairman, Ian Beattie, did his first press briefing, I raised this question specifically with him. I quote my question and his answer in full:
“In the last year, I have become aware of about four incidents when athletes feel that the things that are not true had been said to them or about them, including misinformation being given in selection meetings. I don’t want to talk about anything specific but I’m hoping that you can give me an assurance that “a culture of lying” will not continue on your watch”.
“Ian Beattie: I can comment on that, and I wouldn’t want to preside over any culture of lying. Openness and transparency are key values in what we should be doing. Sometimes there will be difficult decisions, and sometimes people will not agree with the decisions, and that is fine. It is high-level sport, and people will be disappointed sometimes. But I think there is a way of doing things, and doing things properly and with integrity. I am not aware of the specifics you are saying, but certainly, if that was to continue, I would be concerned about it”.
While Beattie, sensibly, did not get into detail, nor did he deny that athletes had been lied to. I know that he was fully aware of one such incident.
While this week’s statement refers to: “opportunities created as a result of the revised structure will be discussed” with Christian Malcolm and quotes Malcolm as saying, “I am very disappointed to hear about the news but understand the rationale around this decision”, this seems little prospect of Christian Malcolm being in the employment of UK Athletics after the end of this summer.
The appointment of Jo Coates is widely seen as a big mistake by the then chairman and board of UK athletics. Coates’ appointments of Sara Symington and Christian Malcolm have not been seen as successful appointments. When the UK statement has to be couched in legally defensive terms, the message behind it is clear. The senior management team of Coates, Symington, and Malcolm has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. After this summer, with its three championships (Worlds, Commonwealth, and Europeans), all three will be gone. Jack Buckner will be in post as CEO, supported by Mark Munro under the supervision of chairman Ian Beattie. A new era is about to begin.