UKA’s performance culture criticised

Governing body looks to a fresh start after independent review highlights the need for change in areas such as coaching, communication and leadership roles

The departure of UK Athletics (UKA) performance director Neil Black (pictured) less than a year before the Olympics is of “acute concern”. The lack of an authoritative coach within UKA’s leadership team “is viewed with incredulity”. Staff turnover at the governing body has “escalated tensions, confused roles and blurred accountability”.

These are just some of the critical comments contained in an independent review into British Athletics’ handling of the Lottery-funded World Class Programme.

The review took place last year and its findings are available exclusively in the latest (January 23) issue of AW. In a five-page article, Sarah Rowell – the interim chair of UKA during most of 2019 – offers her thoughts on the results, while Vikki McPherson, a former international athlete who was commissioned to carry out the review, delivers an ‘executive summary’, which AW has reproduced word for word in the magazine.

There are no fine details about UKA’s dealings with Alberto Salazar, or the Zara Hyde Peters episode, or the departure of performance director Black after the World Championships in Doha, or Richard Bowker’s dismally short reign as chair of the governing body. But McPherson’s ‘executive summary’ is not as dry as the title suggests and it contains a number of eye-catching comments as it tackles areas like selection for major championships, the impact that a narrow medal-winning focus has on the wider sport and what it describes as “a lack of trust in the governing body”.

Rowell admits there has been “a period of uncertainty” following the departures of Black, Bowker and chief executive Niels de Vos and she is keen for the review to act as a catalyst for positive change. Strictly speaking, the review had two main parts – a focus on the World Class Programme (including non-Olympic disciplines and young athlete programmes) and a look into the world of performance coaching – and together the two reviews have prompted calls for change in five main areas.

These are: performance leadership (key roles such as the performance director and head coaches), performance coaching, team selection, communication and connectivity with the wider sport, plus support provision.

If the governing body focuses effectively on change and improvements in these areas, McPherson says optimistically there is a “collective hope new leadership will herald a new dawn”.

Rowell adds: “UK Athletics strongly believes that we can build on our successes to date and come out of what has been a period of uncertainty, working closely with our home country partners and the whole sport to create a performance structure which supports and enables all to maximise their potential; and does so by building on our current strengths, responding to new opportunities and addressing the gaps and weaknesses highlighted within the reviews.”

» See the January 23 issue of AW for a five-page feature on the findings of the independent review into the UKA performance system

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