The athletics community is calling on UKA to have a zero-tolerance policy towards coaching licenses ©Getty Images

A petition has called on UK Athletics (UKA) to have a "zero-tolerance" approach to coaches, requesting lifetime bans for those found guilty of sexual misconduct in the sport.

Scottish junior record holder in women's pole vault, Anna Gordon; and British international cross country runners Kate Seary and Mhairi Maclennan wrote a letter to UKA's chief executive Joanna Coates requesting a zero-tolerance policy towards coaches.

"Recent events have highlighted that some coaches who have broken the conditions of their coaching license - specifically in the context of physical or sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse - will be eligible for reinstatement after temporary bans," read the joint statement.

"The potential risks of this policy are obvious, and to protect the safety of all athletes we feel that these cases cannot be resolved using arbitrary decisions that consider any professional future for these coaches."

The statement went on to say that it was "positive" that UKA could withdraw coaching licenses for breaching condition 6.1 of the Coach License Terms and Conditions, but called it "concerning" that some coaches were given temporary or restricted bans.

Condition 6.1 states that UKA can withdraw licenses if UKA has undertaken a disclosure and barring service check or disclosure and the results of that are not in UKA’s opinion satisfactory. 

It can also be withdrawn if a coach has been found to have committed a disciplinary offence by UKA or by any other sports governing body, coaching or teaching organisation or International Federation or other recognised organisation which in UKA’s opinion means the coach is unsuitable to coach athletes.

Doping and police investigations that can conflict with their role as a coach - for example child abuse - are also sanctionable offences.

It also allows other governing bodies and teaching organisations to report coaches as unsuitable, which UKA can then use to take action with evidence.

"We feel that anything less than a full permanent ban is unacceptable in cases of physical and sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse," the statement continues.

"We therefore call for a zero-tolerance policy regarding any physical or sexual misconduct towards athletes in our sport.

"If any coach is found to have broken the Coach License Terms and Conditions regarding abuse of this nature, we believe their license should be permanently revoked.

"We want an end to short-term or restricted bans and a move to consistent, transparent rulings with the welfare of athletes at the heart of decisions."

A recent ruling by UKA led Gordon to post on Instagram about the decision, where an Edinburgh-based coach was given a five-year license suspension.

"What magical thing happens at this five-year mark that changes someone that shouldn't be allowed to coach to someone should?" said Gordon.

She then mentioned another case in which a coach was banned from coaching anyone under the age of 18, but allowed them to coach anyone 18 and over.

That case banned the coach for a year and banned them from their athletics club, unless they get permission to return by the club.

Gordon also accused UKA's system of lacking transparency, with details only available by request and at the discretion of UKA's safeguarding officer.

In response to the letter, UKA released a statement explaining their stance on lifetime bans and insisted their commitment to stopping abuse in athletics.

"Physical and sexual abuse is obviously very serious and we would investigate anything raised with us fully and ultimately take it to a hearing," said UKA.

"These are also likely to involve criminal law offences and we raise with and work with police and other relevant agencies.

"However, the application of permanent sanctions such as lifetime bans can be susceptible to strong and robust legal challenge.

"Whilst time-specific bans mean in theory an individual can reapply for a license at a future date, the sport then can review whether or not to permit them to re-enter the sport.

"We understand the concerns highlighted with the petition, we are committed to making our sport safe and we urge anyone to come forward to us with any issues on [email protected]."

Back in July, Gordon launched a website called Signpost to Safety, giving victims of abuse in athletics in the United Kingdom a space to contact relevant authorities.

Tianna Bartoletta is one of a few international athletes to sign the petition so far ©Getty Images
Tianna Bartoletta is one of a few international athletes to sign the petition so far ©Getty Images

The petition so far has been signed by notable British athletes including coach and former middle-distance runner Helen Clitheroe, 1500 metres athlete Sarah McDonald and double Universiade medallist Jonathan Davies.

American athletes Molly Huddle and three-time Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta have also signed the petition.

Abuse and misconduct in sport has been a major talking point since the release of the Netflix documentary Athlete A, showing the sexual abuse scandal in USA Gymnastics after hundreds of women came forward, accusing team physician Larry Nassar of sexual assault.

Nassar has been sentenced to at least 100 years in prison.