Tag Archives: UK Athletics

Why athletics is in danger of going down

Former 800m runner Gareth Balch explains how the marketing strategies of his company, Two Circles, are aiming to revitalise major athletics events in the UK.

The days of seeing half-empty stands at British Athletics’ major events could be numbered if one of Jack Buckner’s early moves as the new chief executive of the governing body pays off.

One of the first things the former European 5000m champion has done is to sign up the sports marketing company Two Circles to help sell tickets and promote the sport.

During its 11-year history, Two Circles has built up an impressive resume, having worked with UEFA, Wimbledon, The Premier League and The Hundred. Buckner has also worked with them before in his previous roles in charge of swimming and triathlon.

There is a strong athletics link with Two Circles, too. The name is derived from the 800m event and one of its founders, Gareth Balch, ran 1:46.75 in 2008.

The 39-year-old was on the cusp of being selected for teams for major championships but felt he was in “no man’s land” as an 800m runner and decided to hang up his spikes in order to pursue a career in sports marketing.

“I gave it everything I had for seven or eight years until I was in my mid-20s and realised I was in diminishing returns at that point,” he says.

Initially he worked for Manchester City before setting up the Two Circles business. “I thought ‘if I could work in sport for the rest of my life I’d be happy’,” he says. “Manchester City was a really dynamic football club at the time and I learnt a lot there. Then, in 2011, I saw an opportunity to start a business and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

After struggling to make a true impact on the track himself, he now has an opportunity to help turn around the fortunes of major athletics events in the UK due to his company’s “data technology solutions”.

What does that mean, though? “We aggregate large amounts of data to understand what audiences most want,” he explains. “We help sports understand audiences and help relay that to the biggest investors in that sport which are often sponsors or media partners to help them get more value out of them.”

During his early days at UK Athletics, Buckner has described the sport as a “sleeping giant” domestically. Balch agrees and feels there is huge potential to get the athletics arenas buzzing again.

“Athletics delivers massive audiences on a really infrequent basis,” he says. “Every four years the audiences are bigger than any Olympic sport and as big as you’d get for any sport around the world but the rest of the Olympic cycle it’s really small.

“Track and field is my favourite sport but I spend a lot of time in other sports and athletics is enormously underperforming. It’s seen far too much as a recreational pursuit instead of a business.

“The current era of sports marketing is going to be defined by a whole bunch of sports continuing to grow faster and those who don’t innovate will fall away. If you look at the audiences for the Diamond League in London from 2012 to 2019, they were in sharp decline – and this is in an era when we saw a 22 per cent growth in attendance in sports events in the UK.

“You’ve got to think we’re missing a trick, especially when we had London 2017 which showed athletics in all its beauty and its pomp.”

On the UK Championships, which once again featured disappointing attendances this summer in Manchester, he says: “There are friends and family in the stands and nothing more than that – and that’s a crying shame.

“The quality of the athletics is amazing and arguably better than in the past. But we can’t even get hardcore track and field fans to come and enjoy it let alone the more transient sports fans.

“There is nothing there for them and athletics has to wake up and recognise it needs to compete in that space otherwise it is on a road to irrelevance.”

Balch’s warning is worrying but, overall, he is optimistic. “There continues to be huge appeal for the sport so we’re many, many Olympic cycles away from athletics not being the No.1 Olympic sport by viewing hours.

“The heartland of people having a basic appeal for athletics is true, but the ability to create events that the average sports fan wants to come and watch – we’re a long way away from that.

“At Two Circles we want to get to customers quickly and begin to understand what they want.”


Source: athleticsweekly.com

Müller ends sponsorship with UK Athletics

Commercial partnership between dairy products company and UKA draws to a close after seven years

UK Athletics is looking for a new title sponsor for its major events after Müller decided not to renew its sponsorship deal with the governing body.

The company, which produces yogurts and desserts, have supported the British Athletics event series since 2016 as title sponsors to events such as Diamond League fixtures in the UK and the annual indoor grand prix in Birmingham.

In 2020 Müller extended its support through to 2022 but has decided not to renew into 2023 which means the governing body will be searching for a main sponsor, whereas the eye-catching television adverts featuring athletes like Laura Muir, Hannah Cockroft and Katarina Johnson-Thompson promoting Müller products will end.

Hannah Cockroft (Müller)

Jack Buckner, the new chief executive of UKA, said: “We’d like to thank Müller for their support of our events over the years and the commitment they showed to athletics. They have shown great enthusiasm and have creatively engaged with all parts of the sport through supporting our events and we wish them well.

“For what was originally a commitment made to last the summer of 2016, the fact that it grew to an eventual seven year collaboration shows the value the sport brings to partners.

“We will of course be seeking new partners for our events and the wider sport knowing that athletics continues to offer a strong return on investment. We are excited for our event series in 2023 with a return to the London Stadium already announced and will be announcing our other fixtures soon.”

Müller Birmingham Diamond League (Mark Shearman)

UK Athletics has a good history of securing major sponsors but they all naturally run their course and finish at some stage. In the run-up to London 2012 the sport signed insurance company Aviva (also known as Norwich Union and CGU) in what was, at the time, the biggest sponsorship deal in British sport outside football.

But along with other sponsors like McCain, Aviva ended their support after the 2012 Games. Other supporters of the sport in recent years include Sainsbury’s and, more recently, Spar.


Source: athleticsweekly.com

Seb Coe insists athletics must stay at London Stadium

Seb Coe insists elite athletics needs to stay at London Stadium amid talks UK Athletics (UKA) could relocate its major events to Birmingham.

There will be no top-flight athletics at the former Olympic Stadium this summer in what is the 10-year anniversary of London 2012.

And discussions have begun between the stadium owners and UKA about a multi-million-pound payout to bring a premature end to the 50-year deal to host athletics at the venue.

World Athletics boss Coe, who was also the mastermind behind London 2012, said: “We want to keep a world-class track-and-field facility in London. I want London to remain a stopping point for international athletics.”

Should the deal to host athletics at London Stadium end, there is no other viable option for elite athletics in the capital. Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, which used to host such events prior to London 2012, has become increasingly neglected.

And were London to lose an elite athletics foothold, Coe said: “I’m very clear, we have to maintain, we should maintain a really world-class presence for track and field in London. It would be bizarre not to.”

The London Stadium has hosted the annual Anniversary Games – the UK’s leg of the Diamond League – in recent years as well as the 2017 World Athletics Championships.

And Coe warned that it might be harder to attract major events to the UK in future without it as a viable athletics venue.

“I think we have to recognise that the quality, the natural assets that London has in an Olympic stadium are still an attraction,” he said. “It’s a big asset, of course it’s a big asset.”

The former middle-distance runner said he had held brief discussions with both those at Queen Elizabeth Park and UKA but said he had no immediate intention to intervene in any future talks.

“I’m not going to speculate on that because I don’t know,” he said. “I’m sure that if UKA felt that I could be useful in that process, I’m of course happy to be. But nobody has actually spoken to me about that yet. I’m going to let this follow its natural course.”

Source: standard.co.uk

Jack Buckner: From Swimming to UK Athletics CEO

Jack Buckner has been announced as the new Chief Executive of UK Athletics following the conclusion of an open recruitment process.

Buckner, who is currently the Chief Executive of British Swimming and previously the British Triathlon Federation, will take the reins at UK Athletics as the sport commences build-up towards a fast approaching Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

As swimming’s CEO he oversaw a hugely successful Team GB performance at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2021, the Olympic team claiming a best-ever haul of eight medals including 4 gold and the Paralympic team was the most successful sport competing for ParalympicsGB with 26 medals won at the Aquatics centre.

Previous to his role at British Triathlon, Buckner worked as Strategic Lead for National Governing Bodies and Market Development for Sport England. Most notably however he is a 1987 World Athletics Championships Bronze medallist, and 1986 European Gold and Commonwealth Silver medallist over 5000m.

On returning to the sport where he originally made his competitive mark, Buckner said:

“I’m incredibly excited to continue my sporting journey at UK Athletics where I know there are so many great people doing amazing things in Olympic and Paralympic sport.  Many thanks to Ian Beattie and the Board at UKA for giving me this opportunity.

“Athletics has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager and I can’t wait to be trackside later in the year. Taking on the CEO role will be an exciting challenge and one I feel privileged to have been offered. I am looking forward to getting started.”

UK Athletics Chair Ian Beattie said:

“I am delighted to announce Jack as our new CEO. We were impressed with the range and quality of applicants for the role at this exciting time for athletics, but Jack was the standout candidate with his feel for the sport and knowledge as an athlete.

“Both the Board and I look forward to working with Jack, starting with this very busy and exciting summer and looking ahead to the fast-approaching Paris Olympics and Paralympics.

“I’d also like to thank Mark Munro in his role as interim CEO and his commitment to leading the senior team over the last few months. I’m pleased to confirm that Mark will continue working for UKA in a senior role and has been appointed to the position of Chief Operating Officer in a crucial role alongside our new CEO. I’ve no doubt we’ve got some great talent in the senior leadership team and organisation and I’m looking forward to working with them in the coming years.”

Marilyn Okoro and Wendy Sly join UKA board

Former athletes are appointed as non-executive directors at the national governing body

Olympians Marilyn Okoro and Wendy Sly will join the UK Athletics board as non-executive directors from February 1. Okoro competed in the 800m and won 4x400m bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, whereas Sly won Olympic 3000m silver at the 1984 LA Games and is the current managing director at AW.

Okoro has also run 1:58.45 – a time that ranks her No.10 on the UK all-time 800m rankings – and outside of competition she is highly regarded in championing mental health, social mobility and athlete welfare, in addition to being a graduate of an accredited programme in corporate governance.

Sly, meanwhile, also won the world 10km title during her career and she has enjoyed a successful career in publishing and continues to serve the sport in roles including team management, athlete mentoring and has previously served a term on the board of England Athletics.

Beattie said: “On behalf of the board I would like to welcome Marilyn and Wendy into these crucial non-executive roles and look forward to us benefitting from the experience they will bring to UKA.

“The quality of applications for these roles was very impressive and I would like to thank all the shortlisted candidates for their interest and engagement in this process as without exception all were of an incredibly high standard.

“The composition of the board is essential for the success of the organisation and I am delighted with the mix of expertise around the table. I have no doubt they will provide excellent support and guidance for the leadership team in what is an exciting year for athletics.”

Okoro said: “I am elated to have been appointed to the board of UKA. As an athlete you want to be involved and help the sport and I am thrilled with this opportunity. The sport is in my blood, and I hope that I can help bridge the gap between the board and the sport and provide an athlete voice.

“I am excited by the joined-up approach outlined by Athletics Unified as I know when the sport collaborates and works together great things can happen. It’s an exciting time to be involved and I look forward to working with Ian and the rest of the board of UKA.”

Sly added: “I’m thrilled to be involved in a new era, not just for UKA but for the whole sport in the UK. I’ve spent 50 years of my life in the sport that I love and I am honoured to have this opportunity to join the board at this exciting time.

“I’ve been privileged to have been involved with team management, and mentoring athletes over the years, so I hope that I can continue to be a familiar face to everyone in the sport and be an approachable figure on the board.

“There have been quite a few changes in the last couple of years and it is great to be part of the new look UKA board that really reflects and has a connection with the sport.”

Source: athleticsweekly.com

Alberto Salazar got a £125,000 bonus after sacking

Mo Farah’s disgraced former coach was paid a six-figure bonus partly out of National Lottery funding even though UK Athletics had dropped him as a consultant, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Alberto Salazar received £125,000 for his role between 2012 and 2016 as a bonus for helping Farah to win Olympic gold, an email obtained via a Freedom of Information request has shown. A part of that sum was public money in the form of National Lottery funding.

Salazar was paid the medal bonus even though UKA dropped a consultancy arrangement with the American coach following a BBC Panorama investigation into his methods in 2015.

The email obtained by this newspaper reveals that, in March 2017, an employee of UK Sport wrote: ‘Alberto Salazar received 125K medal bonus from UKA following [redacted] medal winning performances. Salazar’s [sic] was not contracted or employed by the sport.

[Redacted] confirmed that the funding to pay Salazar’s bonus … in the Rio cycle was from WCP [World Class Performance] pot and not UK Athletics own money.’

It can be assumed the bonuses were due to Farah’s medal-winning performances. A later email from UK Athletics states: ‘2013-2017 Olympic Coach bonus policy … Alberto Salazar (Mo Farah — men’s 5000m/10,000m)’.

Farah won double gold medals at 5,000m and 10,000m at the World Championships in 2013 and 2015 and at the Rio Olympics in 2016. He also won double gold at the 2012 London Olympics when coached by Salazar, though it appears these payments do not relate to that period.

UK Athletics, who initially hired Salazar in 2013, wanted Farah to cut ties with the coach following the BBC investigation. UKA coaches, the late Neil Black and Barry Fudge, however, strongly resisted.

Farah therefore was still using Salazar until 2017, meaning the coach still qualified for the performance bonuses. Salazar’s consultancy was role was always informal, was not contractual and he was not paid for it by UKA. As it transpired, only Farah among UK athletes made use of his coaching methods.

World Class Performance refers to UK Sport’s National Lottery funding of leading Olympians, although as is made clear, the rules changed after 2016 so that Lottery money was not used to pay coach bonuses.

A later email from UKA states that what they describe as the World Class Performance ‘pot’ to pay Salazar’s bonuses came from UK Sport money and ‘co funding from the main sponsor at the time’. The Rio cycle refer to the years running up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, 2013-2016.

However, UK Sport sent a number of emails in 2017 quizzing UKA about the arrangements. An employee at UK Sport also emphasised in the March 2017 email that the new funding agreement ‘also highlights an expectation that if a WCP [funded athlete] were entering into an unusual, novel or potentially contentious arrangement that they would they would discuss with UKS [UK Sport] prior to doing this.’

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Coach John Lees banned for lifetime

A British athletics coach has been banned for life for sexual misconduct John Lees was found guilty of five charges and he admitted to other counts.

The independent appeal committee, chaired by Jane Mulcahy QC, found him guilty of five charges relating to his misconduct towards athletes.

An additional two charges were admitted by Lees, who was based in Edinburgh.

The panel concluded: “We are left with the view that [Lees] habitually behaved inappropriately, had disregard for the rules and, as we have already noted, had no idea of boundaries.”

Scottish cross-country champion Mhairi Maclennan was one of the athletes to testify against Lees.

Waiving her right to anonymity, she said: “For me, today marks what I hope to be the end of a very long journey.

“This experience has certainly tested me in ways I never imagined possible. I’m immensely proud of all the athletes that have spoken up in this case, and I stand with all athletes, past and present, from our group.

“I hope that our story helps to change the narrative and sets a precedent that athletes will no longer suffer in silence.”

Lees had appealed against the decision in February to ban him from coaching and also against the length.

On Thursday, charges against Lees were found proven by the appeal panel of sexual touching, making a sexualised comment to a female athlete, endangering an athlete’s safety by “causing injury by administering a chiropractic adjustment” and providing chiropractic adjustments while not being appropriately qualified.

The further charges admitted by Lees related to massaging an athlete at his home address when she was under 18, and making inappropriate and sexualised comments to athletes in his training group.

British athletics John Lees (pictured) has been given a life ban for sexual misconduct

UK Athletics’ (UKA) submission to the appeal panel said: “[Lees] has shown a blatant disregard for the rules and an insistence on doing things his way… he could not even acknowledge that what he did was wrong.”

The panel concluded that his conduct was “very serious”.

It added: “Further, we are very troubled by his attitude and his continuing failure… to take any responsibility or to accept his conduct was wanting in any way.

“Our unanimous view is that [his] conduct and failure to accept any need for change renders him untrustworthy and unsuitable to work as a UKA licensed coach now or in the future.

“We have therefore decided that the appropriate sanction is the permanent withdrawal of [his] UKA coaching licence.”

The panel concluded: ‘We are left with the view that he habitually behaved inappropriately, had disregard for the rules and, as we have already noted, had no idea of boundaries.’

The UKA’s interim chief executive, Mark Munro, said: ‘We are pleased with the decision by the panel.

‘Athletics cannot tolerate the type of behaviour highlighted in this case. This decision shows that the welfare is at the front and centre of UK Athletics’ and at the heart of what we stand for.’

Exclusive: UK Athletics’ chief was on £226k salary during controversial period

UK Athletics’ controversial chief executive Jo Coates was earning a salary package of £226,143 before she resigned last month, making her one of the highest paid administrators in British Olympic sport, the Guardian can reveal.

The news, which is contained in the UKA accounts for the 2020-21 financial year that will be filed at Companies House later this week, will upset many in the sport given her 19-month reign was characterised by turmoil, infighting and athlete dissatisfaction.

That anger reached a head in September when a group of Britain’s top athletes and coaches told World Athletics president Sebastian Coe of their frustration with Coates and her performance director Sara Symington. Both women also had their defenders but a month later both were gone following a stormy UKA board meeting.

UKA’s accounts show that Coates earned a £147,500 basic salary as well as another £78,663 in pension contributions between March 2020 and March 2021. However, the wider picture is far rosier than expected with UKA reporting an overall deficit of just £103,000 for the financial year. That is considerably better than the result of the previous two years, where the combined losses were over £1m.

Those results also came about despite the organisation experiencing a £9m fall in income due to the global pandemic. However, a combination of only staging one event – the British championships in September 2020 – and dramatically reduced costs for training camps due to travel restrictions meant that UKA was able to cut its costs by just over £9m.

The accounts show that UKA was also able to claim around £85,000 from a number of government schemes, including placing a number of staff members on furlough. And if it wasn’t for unrealised foreign exchange losses of £148k – as a result of the sport holding US dollars to cover costs including those associated with international events and overseas training camps – UKA would have made a £45,000 surplus.

When approached for a statement, UK Athletics confirmed that the accounts for the 2020-2021 financial year will be published on UKA.org.uk and at Companies House this week.

UKA’s chief financial officer Mark Draisey added: “This is a positive outcome for the sport, with our ambition of a break-even position only impacted by the exchange rates affecting our holding in US dollars.

“In terms of our core activities the organisation is coming out of this challenging period with a much stronger financial position to report.”

Mo Farah dropped from funding by UK Athletics

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah has been left off funding by the British Athletics Olympic Programme.

Farah was included on the Olympic World Class Programme funding in 2020, which British Athletics rolled over after the Tokyo Olympics was postponed for a year by the pandemic.

But he failed to reach the Games in Japan after missing the 10,000m qualifying time in the summer.

Farah is yet to announce whether he will return or retire but, with the World and European Championships next year,

British Athletics head coach Christian Malcolm has also refused to close the door on Sir Mo Farah’s career.

He said: “I will welcome any athlete who is out there performing well. Because people have been moved off the world class performance plan doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t want them to be part of the team.

“You want that competition, appetite to be back in the team and performing for their country.

“I haven’t spoken to him; we spoke on WhatsApp a couple of months ago. I’m giving him a bit of space and time but I will be in contact with him just to find out what he wants to do.

“Mo Farah is a legend of our sport and deserves to make his decision in his own time.”

Malcolm and British Athletics performance director Sara Symington have come under fire recently.

Disillusioned athletes reportedly asked Lord Seb Coe president of World Athletics to intervene last month such was their lack of confidence in the UKA performance team, but Malcolm asked for time.

He said: “I think its actions. They were good, productive conversations but it’s how we go forward and these things aren’t going to change overnight. There has to be an element of patience.

“Some of the things were warranted, they are understandable, it’s been a challenging year, but some of the other things they didn’t really know the answers to.

“We had good conversations and we intend on doing things a lot better. I just think we have come in and there have been a lot of moving parts within the organisation and, with anything, nobody really likes change do they?”

UK Athletics names only 17 athletes on top-level funding for next Olympics

UK ATHLETICS has announced its list of athletes who will receive potentially career-defining funding as the summer Olympics scheduled for Paris in 2024 heave into view.

Among them is Keely Hodgkinson, who has been offered top level funding on the British Athletics Olympic world class programme.

The 19-year-old won 800m silver at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer, smashing Kelly Holmes’s British record, which had stood since 1995, by almost a second.

In March she became the youngest British winner at the European Athletics Indoor Championships for more than half a century and the youngest ever 800m European indoor champion, despite not being on full funding.

Performance director Sara Symington said: “As we start the Paris cycle, and longer-term Los Angeles 2028, we made a number of informed decisions in regard to the world-class programme membership that aligns with our strategic priorities.

“We will work closely with the 67 athlete-and-coach pairings that we are offering membership to, and will look to add support and value in their journey via their individual athlete plan,” she droned.

“The selection process is robust and lengthy and we use a lot of data which is complemented by the knowledge of our event leads to inform the decision-making process.

“We have given careful consideration to those athletes who meet the selection criteria and performance matrix which align to the future ambitions of the world class programme.”

Josh Kerr moves up to podium-level funding after winning 1500m bronze in Japan, as do Andrew Pozzi, Jemma Reekie and Jazmin Sawyers.

Alex Bell, who came seventh in the 800m final, has been offered podium funding just two years after saying she was considering taking legal action against UK Athletics after being overlooked for funding for Tokyo.

They join Dina Asher-Smith, Laura Muir, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Adam Gemili, with just 17 athletes on top-level funding. Reece Prescod and Zharnel Hughes have been downgraded to relay funding only, despite Hughes reaching the 100m Olympic final.

Olympic finalists Lizzie Bird, Jake Heyward and Marc Scott are among the athletes to be offered membership at podium potential level. Andrew Butchart, CJ Ujah and Tom Bosworth have seen their funding cut.

Source: morningstaronline.co.uk