'Don't show us your medals' - UK switches focus to participation

Mitch Phillips
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Athletics - London Anniversary Games
FILE PHOTO: Athletics - London Anniversary Games

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - After years of administrative chaos, UK Athletics (UKA) published a 12-year strategy document on Monday that shifted emphasis from a lottery-funded chase for Olympic medals to a rejuvenation of the sport at grass-roots level.

In a sport long-riven with internal and regional disputes, the new document has been delivered in co-operation with the governing bodies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after consultation with more than 5,000 athletes, coaches and officials.

In May, UK Sport delivered a damning report on athletics' governance after a series of resignations, scandals and financial failings, saying the organisation "couldn't get any worse".

Joanna Coates, who became UKA chief executive in March, took those criticisms on board and has spent much of the summer trying to rebuild trust in the organisation and set out a transparent plan for the future.

At the heart of the new strategy is a three-goal approach to running the sport, one of Britain's most successful in the Olympics but which has been suffering at club level despite the huge popularity of the volunteer-led parkrun movement.

The first goal is that by 2032 the British team will have a representative at every discipline in all senior international events and that 95% of the Paralympic team will reach their final.

The second is to develop an infrastructure of athletics and running clubs that will have 250,000 registered athletes across the UK by 2032.

The third goal is to have nine million people running and "pushing" - the new term for wheelchair propulsion - within 12 years.

BACK TO FRONT

There is no mention of medal targets in the new approach, which potentially puts UKA at odds with UK Sport, whose funding model is based on the statement that "success is measured by medals won and the systems in place to find and support the most promising future champions."

Coates suggested on Monday that it was a back to front approach and there was now a "clear departure from previous focus areas.

“You don’t write a strategy for the sport based around funding, you write a strategy for the sport and the bit that UK Sport or Sport England fund you for is the bit that they find attractive within your strategy," she said in a statement.

"I’m writing a 12-year strategy so that the sport survives. It’s a different mindset.

"This is a significant opportunity for the sport and the first time that all five governing bodies have come together as equal partners to build a united strategy for athletics in the UK," Coates said.

"The co-development of a long-term strategy and framework agreement for athletics across the UK, with an ethical decision-making culture and a new communications strategy, will ensure that we address the sport’s long-term issues."

Sally Munday, CEO of UK Sport, described the new plan as "an important milestone for the sport in enabling it to flourish at all levels."

She added: "We remain committed to supporting UKA and the Home Country Athletics Federations as they progress in their work to deliver on all aspects of the Change Plan for the sport, which followed the independent review earlier in the year".

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)