UK Athletics (UKA) has been told to reform its Board and “transform the way it approaches difficult ethical decisions", after an independent review of the national governing body found a "general culture of mistrust" and claims the current state of athletics "couldn't get any worse".
UK Sport commissioned an independent review in February following a period of turbulence at UKA, which the umbrella body labelled a "major concern".
Conducted by Dame Sue Street, the review was aimed at recommending areas of change and organisational development to ensure that the leadership, governance and management of athletics at the UK level is "fit for the future".
A total of 40 separate interviews were conducted over a month period, with nearly 50 different individuals participating in the review.
"The scars inflicted as a result of the period of difficulty within athletics are clear to see," the review said.
"The impression formed during the review was that athletics in the UK is not [currently] in a good position.
"Many of the participants that were interviewed highlighted a disappointment at having experienced poor behaviours within the sport, and also referred to a general culture of mistrust.
"This was particularly highlighted in relation to the relationship between UKA and the HCAFs (Home Country Athletics Federations).
"UKA were accused of adopting a defensive approach to the engagement with stakeholders.
"It was often referenced that the current state of athletics ‘couldn’t get any worse’."
UK Athletics saw the late Neil Black resign as performance director in October in the wake of controversial American distance running coach Alberto Salazar receiving a four-year doping ban.
The organisation also saw Zara Hyde Peters lose her job as chief executive days before she was due to begin the role.
This followed a story alleging that her husband Mike Peters was allowed to continue coaching in athletics, despite having been permanently barred from teaching in October 2012 over an "inappropriate relationship" with a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
Richard Bowker had earlier left his role as chairman of UKA and was replaced by Chris Clark last June.
Bowker had come in for extensive criticism after the Athletics World Cup, held on the same July day as the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon finals, reportedly lost £1 million ($1.3 million/€1.1 million).
Clark resigned as chairman in February and was replaced by Nic Coward, with Joanna Adams appointed as chief executive.
The review noted that the "recent collaborative approach adopted from new leadership within UKA has been well received within the sport", highlighting a meeting between HCAFs and UKA to discuss the way forward for coaching.
It said an agreement was reached on the appointment of a head of coaching who would lead on a strategy for coaching for athletics in the UK – which was seen as a "current gaping hole within the sport".
UK Sport said a "Change Plan" had been developed following the review with Sport England, Sport NI, sportscotland and Sport Wales, which identifies a series of actions to be implemented by the sport before the end of 2020.
Areas of change include "Strategic Alignment and Collaboration" with UKA and the Home County Athletics Federations required to co-develop a long-term UK-wide strategy and framework agreement for athletics.
UKA should also reform its Board and Members Council to implement a "more effective and collegiate style of leadership and governance."
This would include the appointment of a permanent Independent Chair of UKA, as defined by the Code for Sports Governance.
This would not prohibit a person with experience and knowledge of the sport from taking the role.
The organisation must deliver projects as a priority in "ethical decision making and culture", a new communications strategy and a share services study.
“The independent review into UK Athletics has provided clear areas of focus to help UKA and the wider sport in the UK to tackle the deep-rooted problems in athletics,” said Sally Munday, UK Sport chief executive.
"It has laid the groundwork for some really positive collaboration between ourselves and the Home Country Sports Councils to agree a very clear Change Plan for UKA and the Home Country Athletics Federations to work on together.
"We hope that this can mark the beginning of a new chapter for athletics in this country.
"We’ve been encouraged by the positive engagement we’ve had with the Board and executive leadership team at UKA in recent weeks and believe that this can be the springboard needed for one of our most popular sports to flourish."
A series of key milestones have been set for UKA, with the organisation expected to submit its reform plan by the end of September, while Board changes are expected by the end of the year.
UKA chair Coward welcomed the review with the organisation noting that progress had been made in recent weeks and months, with the national governing body saying there was a clear commitment to a joint strategy and clear roles to achieve aims outlined in the "An Athletic Nation” strategy.
"UK Athletics welcomes the report by Sue Street and the change plan," Coward said.
"It captures what we have heard very strongly from across the sport, that there is a need for change.
"That is what we will be getting on with.
"We’re committed to working with all involved in the sport and are already doing so, particularly with the home countries, to implement change for the good of athletics."
Recommendations were also made to UK Sport in the review, with the report calling for the UK Sport Board to "reflect on its role and impact, not just on the sport of athletics, but across the whole system."
"The new funding strategy announced by UK Sport in 2019 does appear to address the notion that was often highlighted in the review that UK Sport’s approach is solely driven by medals," the review said.
"The culture within the high-performance system will be directly impacted by the areas set out in the strategy, such as funding longer term potential, focusing on ethical and behavioural standards, mental health, athlete transition, and connectivity.
"It should be noted that this message doesn’t appear to have filtered out well enough to the system.
"UK Sport should also consider what is the appropriate level of intervention to adopt for sports in crisis.
"It is important that UK Sport recognises situations in which it is appropriate to take a more interventionist approach, and how it would do that.
"This is particularly relevant in relation to Board appointments.
"UK Sport should be vigilant about appointments that are made at Board level and ensure that its role is sufficiently influential.
"In this instance, the time is right for UK Sport to be more proactive."
The summary of the UKA review can be accessed here UKA Review - Summary of Findings Final.pdf
The Change Plan can be accessed here UKA Change Plan 2020 Final 04052020.pdf