New UK Athletics chair to give athletes direct say in how governing body is run

  • Ian Beattie wants UKA to move forward after criticism of regime
  • Plan to give athletes input on hirings after Joanna Coates exit

The new UK Athletics chair, Ian Beattie, has said the management exodus that occurred on his first day in the post has “opened up an opportunity to move forward” and draw a line under the past 18 months of turmoil in the sport. In his first interview since taking the helm he has unveiled a radical plan to offer leading athletes a direct say in how the governing body will be run, including the appointment of a new chief executive.

It is less than two weeks since the incumbent, Joanna Coates, resigned in tandem with the performance director, Sara Symington, in what many saw as an inevitable changing of the guard following open criticism of the regime from within. Prior to his official arrival on 21 October Beattie had signalled he would immediately conduct an evaluation of UKA’s executive team.

The Scot, head of an Edinburgh-based law firm, left little doubt that he foresaw the departures amid a perceived lack of connection with the sport at large since both were transplanted from England Netball. “The crisis was probably before they resigned,” he said.

“I’m maybe trying to be diplomatic. But a lot of coaches were questioning whether the regime was capable of providing that to them. I don’t think it’s about structures and paperwork. It’s about relationships and people. And developing and having all that support structure.

“So we’re looking for someone to come into that role and put a team in place that’s taking a lead. In some ways we’ve shied away from that. But we shouldn’t be. We’re a big athletics nation. We should be able to support our athletes and coaches really well.”

With Coates’s desk already cleared, Beattie has turned to her erstwhile deputy, Mark Munro, for the next six months at least, recreating a chair-CEO partnership that won plaudits at Scottish Athletics. Steve Paulding and Tommy Yule, part of UKA’s Loughborough-based backroom team, will assume temporary charge of the performance programme but the recruitment process to succeed Symington has effectively already begun.

“The main candidates have already been in touch,” Beattie revealed. Stephen Maguire, the former relays guru who quit when surprisingly overlooked for the position of Olympic head coach last year, is the presumed front runner.

However The Guardian understands Maguire is reluctant to leave his senior role at Sport Ireland despite informal conversations about a return. Stung last time around by what some alleged to be cultural bias against the Northern Irishman, he would surely demand complete control of high performance as a carrot.

Until the vacancy is filled, the future of Christian Malcolm, the appointed head coach, will remain up in the air, the Welshman rendered vulnerable by his association with the previous regime and a lack of golds from the Tokyo Olympics.

UK Sport will have input into all hirings. But Beattie added: “I’m very keen that we get some involvement from our top athletes in that process.” He and Munro met with their Lottery-funded performers last Thursday to listen and reset. The prime question athletes posed was how their voices might carry greater weight.

Beattie offered an illustration. “When we replaced Mark at Scottish Athletics, [Olympic medallist] Eilidh Doyle was part of our recruitment panel. And the sport liked it because they felt somebody who’s been at the very top levels was part of the process. I guess I’m looking for the same thing here. That input is important. We’re trying to be inclusive.”

UKA management held a springtime meeting with a larger group of international athletes to outline their strategy. World 200 metres champion Dina Asher-Smith, a source confirmed, led vociferous criticism of the rationale for ditching one of the UK’s two high-profile Diamond League meetings, a decision which followed the loss of the sport’s lucrative television deal with the BBC.

Beattie, a race organiser in his spare time, suggested a pivot is on the cards. “I’m much more positive on our role on events than maybe we’ve seen for the last couple of years,” he underlines. “I think that’s part of what we do. It gives us a shop front. It gives our athletes exposure, it gives sponsors exposure. I’m very keen to get TV involved again. That’s an important part. And without that, I think we’re missing something.”

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Exclusive by Mark Woods

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