Several of Britain’s top track and field stars have told Sebastian Coe they are at breaking point with the current regime at UK Athletics and have made a plea to him to intervene.
Multiple sources have told the Guardian that several of GB’s leading athletes confronted the World Atletiek president while in the Crown Plaza Hotel after the Diamond League finals in Zurich – and he was made aware of their disillusionment with UKA.
The athletes are believed to have expressed a lack of confidence in the UKA performance team, led by Sara Symington and Christian Malcolm, as well as the UKA chief executive Jo Coates. One source present told the Guardian it had been done “for the good of the sport because things need dramatic and immediate change”.
Along with multiple criticisms of Symington and Malcolm’s coaching, eyebrows were also raised that they were given permission by Coates to go on holiday after a disappointing Olympic Games, where GB Atletiek won just six medals, and while the season was still ongoing. Frustrations were also expressed about Coates, who was appointed last year from netball. Many questioned her coaching appointments, said that she had not sought advice from people who knew the sport, and told Coe that her promises to put athletes first were not matched by the reality.
Coe was also told it was difficult for people inside the sport to go public because of the close relationship between Coates, Syminton and the head of UK Sport, Sally Munday – and they were fearful of the potential consequences.
However such is the frustration among some athletes that they have even floated the idea of withdrawing from UKA’s World Class Programme, which provides them with Lottery funding.
Separately the Guardian understands that Coates’s plans to reduce payments to several coaches is also causing discontent. One described what they are doing to coaches as “catastrophic”, sê: “What a waste. What will be left of the sport once they are done?” In response, UKA urged its stars to engage with its athletes commission if they had any criticisms.
“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,” a spokesperson said.
“Both the organisation and the wider sport are undergoing a period of change as the new UKA plan for the sport is introduced. We understand that for some the changes made are difficult, yet for others some of the changes are not being made fast enough.
“As it is there are improvements that could not be delivered prior to Tokyo such was the focus on supporting athletes and coaches to qualify and compete in the delayed Games.
“We would urge athletes to continue to give feedback to UK Athletics and also engage with the Athletes’ Commission as we are fully committed to ensuring we place athletes first and at the heart of our plans going forward.”
Coe, who spoke to the Guardian in Zurich last Thursday before his discussion with the British athletes, said he hoped UKA would learn the lessons from a disappointing Olympics.
While praising the performances of the medallists Holly Bradshaw, Laura Muir, Keely Hodgkinson and Josh Kerr, Coe said: “I have a concern. I just sensed that rather too many athletes seemed to have left their best performances a little bit behind them. And peaking, and holding that peak, is really important. So look, it wasn’t unalloyed joy. And it wasn’t a disaster.
“Yet after Tokyo, every good federation will be having a review. And the question that any federation would want to ask is: where is the talent most being supported?”