Some of Britain’s leading athletes have pleaded with Lord Coe to step in and save the sport in this country after becoming furious with the current regime at UK Athletics.
Sportsmail has been told the impassioned encounter between the World Athletics president and several GB track and field stars took place by chance at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Zurich last Thursday.
The conversation, which followed the Diamond League finals earlier that evening, was described by one source as a ‘proper cry for help – the athletes were really reaching out’.
Multiple sources have come forward to Sportsmail to paint a picture of an underachieving sport mired in chaos, with athletes and coaches at breaking point in the wake of Britain’s worst performance at an Olympic Games since 1996.
Some are even considering the drastic step of walking away from UKA’s World Class Programme if changes are not made.
That would mean the damning move of operating entirely outside the British system and foregoing lottery funding for the sake of disassociating with UKA, though they would still be eligible for selection to championships such as the Olympics.
At the heart of the athletes’ exasperation, according to insiders, is a perceived lack of expertise and presence from performance director Sara Symington and the Olympic head coach Christian Malcolm.
They were both appointed last autumn under chief executive Joanna Coates, with the trio mockingly described as the ‘three amigos’ by one figure close to the system.
The appointment of Symington, who worked under Coates at England Netball, has attracted fierce criticism within the sport, with the performance director accused of lacking athletics knowledge.
Malcolm’s selection last year, ahead of the vastly experienced and respected Stephen Maguire, also raised eyebrows. The 42-year-old former GB sprinter has been considered ‘out of his depth’ by several athletes and coaches.
‘There is no attention to detail from any of them,’ said one coach. ‘The situation could be a catastrophe for the sport for years if it does not change.’
It was also flagged up that Symington and Malcolm were on holiday instead of attending the Diamond League finals in Zurich, where Dina Asher-Smith returned to form and Keely Hodgkinson won the 800m title.
The anger from athletes expressed to Lord Coe, which extends to the lack of British-based competitions and questions about medical provisions, comes at a time when some of Britain’s leading coaches are facing growing uncertainty about their positions.
Sportsmail understands a number of coaches and coaching consultants have been told by UKA in the past fortnight that their working hours could be reduced or their consultancies terminated.
Such letters have been sent to Andy Young and Scott Simpson, who respectively led Laura Muir (1500m) and Holly Bradshaw (pole vault) to Olympic medals. A letter was also sent to high jump coach Fuzz Caan, with consultancies held by coaches Tore Gustafsson (hammer), Leon Baptiste (sprints) and Jon Bigg also under threat.
UKA indicated in the letters that future consultant posts will be advertised after their current coaching review, but it has caused alarm that the positions have been adjusted or terminated prior to the establishment of a new system.
While coaching reviews tend to follow an Olympics, and indeed certain changes are quite possibly warranted after an underwhelming haul of just six medals, the ‘cold’ nature of the letters has been criticised.
It was also noted that Young had not received so much as a note of congratulation for orchestrating Muir’s brilliant 1,500m silver medal, though over the weekend it is believed he was told a new contract would be forthcoming.
Among the changes on the way, Rob Denmark is expected to leave his interim head of performance role.
A UKA spokesperson said: ‘Any suggested changes to the coaching structure are not set. We understand for some the changes are difficult, yet for others, some changes are not fast enough.
‘We would urge athletes to continue to feedback to UK Athletics and also engage with the Athlete’s Commission as we are fully committed to ensuring we place athletes first and at the heart of our plans going forward.’