Britain’s preparations for the Tokyo Olympics have hit an unexpected bump with the news that Chelsea Warr has stepped down as the UK Sport performance director.
Warr, an Australian who was one of the architects behind Team GB’s success at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, has decided to take up a chief executive job at the Queensland Academy of Sport and will leave in a fortnight. She will take gardening leave for six months before starting her new role in the autumn.
The timing has stunned many in the high-performance system given that only last month Warr was boldly predicting she was “quietly confident” that Britain could achieve its best Olympics in Tokyo and was also heavily involved in planning ahead for Paris 2024.
Warr, who joined UK Sport in 2005, made her name in the organisation by leading the Talent ID programme that led to the discovery of Helen Glover, Tom Daley and Lizzy Yarnold. However, some insiders were increasingly critical of what one said was her “myopic” approach to winning medals before everything else.
It is also thought by some that her views were not entirely compatible with the new UK Sport chief executive, Sally Munday, who is seen as trying to promote a more holistic approach.
One well-placed observer said Warr had done a “bloody good job” but predicted her departure also would energise the system. Another said it would have minimal effect on Team GB’s results at the Olympic Games, adding: “I can’t imagine many sports are racking their brains thinking what are we going to do now?”
Michael Bourne, the head of science and medicine at the England and Wales Cricket Board and the UK Sport deputy of performance services, will take over Warr’s role on an interim basis with immediate effect.