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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Furious leading athletes consider quitting UK Athletics contracts over ‘catastrophic’ coaching cuts

A group of Britain’s leading athletes have discussed resigning from their UK Athletics contracts and giving up funding, amid fury over “catastrophic” coaching cuts by the crisis-hit governing body.

A number of coaches, whose athletes have won multiple Olympic medals between them, were recently told that their services would be either no longer required by UK Athletics or that their hours would be cut drastically.

That followed multiple redundancies of respected senior figures as the governing body attempted to make major savings following years of financial turmoil.

Telegraph Sport understands a group of British athletes raised their concerns with World Athletics president Lord Coe in a chance encounter after the Zurich Diamond League last week, pleading with him to step in, amid growing anger and disillusionment at some of UK Athletics’s recent decisions.

It is understood Andy Young, who coached Laura Muir to Olympic 1,500 metres silver in Tokyo, and Scott Simpson, who coached Holly Bradshaw to Olympic pole vault bronze, are among a raft of world-class coaches recently informed by email, without consultation, that their contracts would be terminated or significantly reduced.

Other affected coaches, either employed by UK Athletics or used on a consultancy basis, include Fuzz Caan, Jon Bigg and Leon Baptiste. Some are believed to have been belatedly informed they will receive new contracts under amended terms in the coming days.

Further anger was caused by the termination emails being sent when Sara Symington, the UK Athletics performance director, and head coach Christian Malcolm had gone on holiday.

One coach described the recent treatment of some of the sport’s most highly regarded coaches as “catastrophic”, adding: “What a waste. What will be left of the sport once UK Athletics is done?”

By walking out on the UK Athletics performance programme, the group of athletes – most of whom are global finalists – would relinquish their funding, as well as access to the governing body’s science and medical departments.

It would also have serious implications for UK Athletics’s funding. UK Sport awarded the governing body more than £22 million for the current Olympic cycle to Paris 2024, but that figure would be difficult to justify without the presence of many of the country’s leading competitors.

Many athletes are unhappy with UK Athletics relinquishing one of its two regular Diamond League events (although it did step in at the last minute to replace the cancelled Rabat leg earlier this year), while there was widespread fury when The Telegraph disclosed the British Olympic trials would not be shown on television for the first time this century.

UK Athletics is currently without a TV rights deal after its long-term BBC contract, worth more than £2 million a year, expired.

Senior appointments have also raised eyebrows among many in the sport, with Jo Coates, the former England Netball chief executive, taking up the same role at UK Athletics last year, before bringing Symington with her from netball’s governing body.

Malcolm is well liked within the sport, but his appointment was a surprise after he retired as a sprinter only in 2014. One coach told The Telegraph that Malcolm’s lack of experience meant the role was a decade premature.

A UK Athletics spokesperson said: “As is the norm for this stage at the end of an Olympic and Paralympic cycle, a number of structural changes are being made to enable the World Class Programme to deliver its strategy towards the Paris cycle.

“Any suggested changes to the coaching structure are not set and remain under consultation, which has been further extended to ensure the feedback is given full consideration. We understand that, for some, the changes made are difficult.”

The organisation also urged athletes to feed back, so they were “at the heart of plans going forward”.

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