Government agency concludes that “scars inflicted as a result of the period of difficulty within athletics are clear to see”

UK Sport has published a summary of findings from its independent review into UK Athletics (UKA), with the government agency also having set out a ‘change plan’ for the future of the sport in this country.

The review, for which the summary of findings can be found here, was designed to identify the main areas of change and development required to create an organisation that is “fit for the future”.

In its summary of findings document, UK Sport concludes that: “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.”

Over 40 interviews with leading figures from within and around the sport were conducted as part of the review, with UKA Sport stating: “Many of the participants that were interviewed highlighted a disappointment at having experienced poor behaviours within the sport, and also referred to a general culture of mistrust. This was particularly highlighted in relation to the relationship between UKA and the HCAFs (home country athletics federations).

“UKA were accused of adopting a defensive approach to the engagement with stakeholders. It was often referenced that the current state of athletics ‘couldn’t get any worse’.”

However, the document added: “A consistent message throughout was that all is not lost. There is an appetite within the sport to make this work, with contribution from all parties. The recent collaborative approach adopted from new leadership within UKA has been well received within the sport, and it would be advisable to maintain this.”

UK Sport are keen that their recommendations are implemented quickly and a timescale has been produced. Particularly quick off the mark has been the agreed appointment of a ‘head of coaching’ – a role UK Sport described as “a current gaping hole within the sport”.

In a statement, UKA has said the national governing body – together with the four home country athletics federations of Athletics Northern Ireland, England Athletics, Scottish Athletics and Welsh Athletics – welcome the findings “and are committed to working together positively and collectively to support the recommended change plan”.

UK Sport, which decides on the level of public funding invested in athletics, says it paid particular attention to the areas of strategy, leadership & culture, governance and integration & connectivity in its review.

UKA has had many problems and controversies to deal with in recent times and a leadership merry-go-round has seen numerous changes at the top.

Earlier this year, as revealed by AW, the national governing body’s own independent review uncovered a number of areas of concern and was highly critical of its performance culture.

Last month, new UKA CEO Joanna Coates outlined her focus for the future of the sport which she says needs reconnecting “at every single level”.

READ MORE: New UKA CEO seeks ‘ethical success’ and a united sport

Following publication of UK Sport’s independent review, the government agency’s CEO Sally Munday said it has “provided clear areas of focus” to help UKA and the wider sport in this country “to tackle the deep-rooted problems in athletics”.

She added: “We hope that this can mark the beginning of a new chapter for athletics in this country.

“We’ve been encouraged by the positive engagement we’ve had with the board and executive leadership team at UKA in recent weeks and believe that this can be the springboard needed for one of our most popular sports to flourish.”

The independent review was conducted by Dame Sue Street, former permanent secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who said: “Athletics is an extraordinary sport at which the UK excels, deserving the highest quality of ethical and effective administration, with increased commitment to strategic alignment across the home nations.

“I have been encouraged by the swift action planning by UK Sport following my recommendations and hope that the momentum and positive approach now required will allow the sport to thrive.”

UK Sport worked with Sport England, Sport NI, sportscotland and Sport Wales to develop the ‘change plan’, which identifies a series of actions to be implemented by the sport before the end of 2020.

The areas of change stated by UK Sport are:

  • 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
  • Thematic changes – UKA to deliver projects as a priority in the following areas:
    – Ethical decision making and culture
    – New communications strategy
    – Shared services study

The full ‘change plan’ can be found here.

A joint response from UKA and the home country athletics federations said in part: “The report states clearly the need for collaboration across all bodies in the areas of strategy, leadership and culture, and governance, as well an enhanced focus on ethical decision making, a new communications and digital strategy, and events.

“There has already been progress made in recent weeks and months through positive and collaborative dialogue between the chairs and CEOs of all organisations. From this dialogue there has been a clear commitment from all parties towards a joint underpinning strategy and in defining clear roles and responsibilities that will help us to deliver our joint vision contained within the document ‘An Athletic Nation’. This will lead to the development of a governance structure that creates a seamless connection between UKA and the home countries.

“Of course, the most serious threat facing the sport right now is the current Covid-19 crisis and we have already made significant joined-up decisions in helping the sport navigate this challenging time involving the future competition calendar, adherence to government guidelines and advice to all members of the athletics family.

“At the point when athletics is able to emerge from the shadow of Covid-19 it will need – and deserves – a structure that is working in complete alignment to ensure we utilise resources efficiently to maximise returns for the sport.”

The document ‘An Athletic Nation’, which was produced in 2019, can be found here.

Nic Coward, UKA chair, 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.”

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