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UK Athletics

UKA performance review

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Cross Country

25 January 2020

The following Executive Summary of the recent performance review was published in this week's edition of Athletics Weekly magazine. Please see this week's issue for a column by Sarah Rowell.

We are currently considering how best to engage with the wider sport to get their views on the findings, and in the meantime would encourage anyone with views to send them to review@uka.org.uk.

Independent Performance Review Executive Summary

The interviews with the Olympic athletes and their personal coaches which were carried out as part of an earlier piece of work indicated significant progress has been made in the current cycle in the provision of individualised support to athletes based at the National Performance Institute (NPI), elsewhere in the UK and overseas. Whilst there is room for improvement in the documentation of Individual Athlete Plans these individual relationships have been the focus, and are the strength, of the WCP. In each instance time had been devoted to developing the right relationship with the athlete, their coaches and the other stakeholders supporting them. The relationships required to manage these challenging dynamics had been built up over many years and in some case over decades.

The Performance Director (PD) has played a pivotal role in maintaining relationships with several Podium level Olympic athletes and was the team leader at all major able-bodied events over the last seven years. Given this the impact of his departure from post less than a year before the Tokyo Games should be of acute concern.

Identification of and rapid response to injury was commonly cited as best illustrating the positive impact of the WCP. The programme also invests heavily in the logistical delivery of training camps, holding camps and support within the competition environment. Delivery in this area is widely acclaimed by athletes, coaches and staff and recognised as being a competitive advantage over rival nations.

The focused attention in these areas has, however, been at the expense of other activities, particularly managing relationships with internal and external stakeholders and communicating to the wider athletics community.

Tensions between the Chair of the Performance Oversight Committee (POC) and the PD were well known in the WCP community and were not well managed by either individual, or by the interim CEO. Staff turnover at Board and CEO level escalated tensions, confused roles and blurred accountability. Clarification of and adherence to respective remits will be vital to regain trust and provide the Board with the necessary assurance around the future strategy and operational delivery of the WCP.

Whilst there is a strong desire to ensure that the perspective of athletes helps shape the evolution of the WCP the UKA Athlete Commission is at an embryonic stage of development and is struggling to identify its place and focus. With new representatives recently recruited onto the Commission this is an opportune time to revisit its primary objectives and put in place the support required to achieve them.

Whilst the vision of the WCP was considered clear, concerns were expressed with regards to the impact the narrow medal winning focus has on the wider sport. The fact that the staff employed by the WCP no longer perform leadership roles for the sport as a whole is a point of confusion and tension in equal measure. The absence of an authoritative coach within the governing body leadership team is viewed with incredulity.

The level of integration between the Olympic and Paralympic programmes is highlighted as a strength at an operational level, however since the departure of the Deputy Performance Director UKS have consistently expressed concerns around the strategic leadership and oversight of the WCP. The lack of Paralympic representation on the Performance Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is perceived to be a risk and the Paralympic Head Coach is engaged with as a PD by external stakeholder organisations, resulting in expectations beyond the remit of the role, confused accountability and the potential for overload.

It is impossible to reconcile the polarised perspectives of maximising opportunities for athletes to ‘gain a vest’ and providing increased levels of support to smaller team sizes focused on athletes with current, or future, medal winning potential. Renewed efforts to establish, communicate and adhere to a philosophy around the selection of athletes to compete for GB & NI are essential to reduce the tensions in this area. This will be particularly key if, as anticipated, UKS require governing bodies to contribute towards the costs of fielding GB & NI teams in future.

The pockets of excellence in the culture of the WCP do not, yet, extend to the programme as a whole. This is exacerbated by the fact that when WCP athletes come together in a camp environment they will be joined by athletes not supported by the programme, inevitability giving rise to tensions between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The impression is there is more of a sense of team within the Paralympic programme than the Olympic programme. The successful turn-around in the relay team culture was also highlighted, with an opportunity for lessons learnt to be disseminated more widely.

The lack of an overarching strategy for the governing body made it difficult to progress the aspiration for an all embracing Performance Strategy for Athletics in the UK. Over the course of the review it was confirmed that its focus should be on meeting the UKS deadlines for the WCP strategy, with the other areas of the Performance Strategy to be developed over a longer, slower timeline aligned with the evolution of the overall strategy for British Athletics.

In the disciplines of mountain running and ultra running there are existing advisory groups well placed to lead on the development of a strategy for their respective areas. There are no equivalent bodies for cross country and road running. The insight into the volume of voluntary work undertaken by a small number of individuals in the mountain running and ultra running community gleaned through the interview process was truly humbling and these communities would be well served by a single Performance Strategy which captures and promotes their disciplines.

The WCP is operating in a challenging context characterised by a lack of trust in the governing body as a whole amongst external stakeholders and the athletics community. Representatives of stakeholder organisations key to the success of the WCP noted limited to no contact with the Chair, CEO and PD and expressed a reluctance to commit to further supporting the programme when the perceived values of the governing body did not align with their own.

The athletics governing bodies do not have exclusive jurisdiction of the sport in the UK, with independent initiatives around road running, such as the free weekly parkrun, particularly common. London Marathon Events Ltd currently support the WCP, and invest in other governing body initiatives, but were very open about their desire to develop a vision for endurance running in the UK which is broader and longer term than funding constraints have enabled UKA to be. Their motivation was described as a desire to develop a collective vision as opposed to one owned by any one organisation and their preference would be for UKA to be a key stakeholder, but they have independently commenced a consultation process. The absence of a senior individual within UK Athletics tasked with managing the relationship with London Marathon places both the opportunity to engage in this consultation process and their future investment in the WCP at risk.

The status of the sport of Athletics meant there was a collective desire on the part of all external stakeholders consulted to be associated with it and for all members of the athletics community interviewed to contribute to it. Their collective hope is that the new leadership team will herald a new dawn.