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UK Athletics creates long overdue Athletes’ Commission

Published 11 July 2017 | Authored by: Richard Yates

I was recently appointed to the inaugural UK Athletics Athletes’ Commission along with an additional 8 members[1] all of whom are either current or recently retired athletes from a multitude of event disciplines and backgrounds. The members will stand for an initial 2-year period.

The balance of representative members from competing and non-competing athletes is seen as being of the utmost importance to the Commission as it facilitates those still competing in the sport to have a greater involvement in picking up current ideas relevant to the competition arena whereas the non-competing athletes have additional time to dedicate towards areas such as administration, careers guidance and general life skills.  The common viewpoint is that the creation of the Commission is indeed long overdue in the sport of athletics, albeit there is clearly considerable groundwork to be done in ensuring that the Commission is effective.

The Commission members are currently in the process of electing a suitable Chairperson who will have the task of representing the Athletes’ Commission by directly sitting on the UK Athletics (UKA) Board. The Chairperson will stand for an initial period of 4 years.

The Commission itself is largely the brainchild of multiple Olympic medallist Kelly Sotherton who, in describing the Commission has stated:

I have always passionately believed that, as athletes, we need a formal voice and role in the on-going future development of our sport.  I’m pleased UKA were open to this idea and that we have been able to work together to create a platform that allows athletes to provide effective input into decision-making at all levels of the organisation.

I think UKA and athletics as a whole will really benefit from the unique insights and perspective delivered by the athletes and I look forward to seeing its work come to fruition in the years to come.

The Commission also stems in some respect from the recent Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson Independent Review to Government entitled “Duty of Care in Sport” which served to scrutinise welfare and safety issues in sport. Initial suggestions of the Athletes’ Commission have included athletes having a say in relation to major event calendar planning, careers advice and guidance on exiting the sport in addition to further support in relation to general life skills and more transparency in relation to selection and funding decisions.

The stated aim of the Commission is to ensure that the Board of UK Athletics can benefit from the perspective and expertise of international athletes in its deliberations and decision making procedures. The Commission also provides a platform and mechanism to ensure that the viewpoints and suggestions of athletes can be effectively communicated at UKA Board level.  The Commission will seek to provide a fresh perspective straight from the athletics track on new trends and issues being faced by the governing body – UKA.   I am also of the opinion that the existence and functioning of a successful Athletes’ Commission will serve to increase trust towards UKA as an organisation by ensuring that the interests of the athlete remain at the forefront.

A standalone Commission is unlikely to be effective and there is a strong requirement for an effective integration of the Commission into the existing organisational structure in addition to a clear connection to the wider community of athletes involved in the sport. In this respect, the creation of the Commission is indeed the easy part. It is imperative that in order for the Commission to be effective there needs to be an effective means by which the athletes are able to contact the Commission in order to successfully have their views communicated across to the board level. There also needs to be an effective feedback system whereby the athletes are able to provide the Commission with specific input on issues they feel need addressing at the top level.

UKA itself will also need to actively report on the activities, investigations and values of the Commission in order for it to be effective. This will allow our athletes to see that the Commission is indeed being granted a good level of importance and exposure and there has been a suggestion that a section of the governing body’s website dedicated to the Commission would be a useful starting point. The presence of the Commission at athletics events is also an integral ingredient for success.

The creation of a more transparent governing body can only serve to assist in the development of the sport of athletics and if athletes are aware that their own opinions and ideas are indeed being taken into consideration when important decisions in relation to selection, funding and event planning are being reached, the athletes themselves will feel a greater confidence.

It is important to note from existing successful athlete commissions such as that of the British Athletes Commission (“BAC”) and that of the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) that an Athletes’ Commission should not be seen to simply operate as a complaints box but rather an effective channel between the athletes and the board. The ultimate aim is to create a determinative system for gaining athlete feedback on all key decisions affecting the sport. After all, athletes are at the centre of the sport so their voices need to be heard and their experiences must be utilised to optimum effect.

Although the UKA Board itself has in the past, and does currently contain individuals who have indeed competed at the top-level in athletics, the board has  not always effectively  represented the interests and viewpoints of the athletes. The hope is that the recently formed Athletes’ Commission will serve to do just that.

There has also been a recent plethora of negative criticism of UKA as an organisation from a number of former athletes such as Darren Campbell on the basis that the current set of individuals running the sport are failing to take into consideration the needs and viewpoints of those integral to the successful functioning of the sport, be it the volunteers or and the athletes themselves. Whilst there are a number of successful business leaders on the board, it is felt that athletes are the ones who will put the sport first when making certain decisions; the reality is that the viewpoint of the athlete needs to remain at the heart of the sport. In order to be effective, the Commission will require assistance from UKA in the form of both financial and administrative resources and is likely to lead to positive change in terms of the current board structure by virtue of the fact that the Chairperson of the Athletes’ Commission will now have a seat and a direct input at UKA board meetings.

Having recently attended the 2017 UK World Championship Trials in Birmingham it was disappointing to see that the stands were very sparse in the run up to what is a home World Championships in August in London. Specific criticisms centred around the fact that ticket prices were expensive, spectators and indeed athletes were charged £10 each day for parking in a field and there were no healthy food options at the event for either the athletes or the spectators. It is indeed easy to criticise such issues within the sport, the more difficult thing is ascertaining what the solution is and taking steps to improve matters. These are areas and problems that the Athletes’ Commission will be tasked with seeking to improve.


[1] Abdul Buhari (Discus), Jamie Bowie (400m), Hannah England (1500m), Dai Greene (400m Hurdles), Stephen Miller (Club Throw), John Pares (Ultra Distance Runner), Isobel Pooley (High Jump) and Goldie Sayers (Javelin).



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About the Author

Richard Yates

Richard Yates

Richard is a solicitor in the Commercial Litigation and Sports and Media Law Departments at Farleys Solicitors LLP, based in the firm’s Manchester City Centre Office.

Richard specialises in advising both individuals and companies on a variety of contentious commercial related matters to include breach of contract, professional negligence, defamation, property litigation, contested debt cases and emergency injunctions.

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