Sports council takes action to reduce club influence

Mike Heath and Tony Shiret of the Athletics Research Group say an EGM later this month could see clubs lose voting power at UKA meetings

Following discussion between us and UKA Chairman Ian Beattie, and following letters to Mr Beattie and the Chairman of UK Sport, The UKA has published details of the proposals it plans to make at an extraordinary general meeting on January 28. While this is a welcome step forward, we believe it was unlikely to have happened without our intervention.

READ MORE: UKA Member EGM Statement

Readers can see for themselves that the proposals will reduce the influence of their clubs over decisions which directly affect them and reduce any meaningful control over the UKA after a period when its senior management and board have not clearly failed to improve the UKA’s performance. Under the proposed changes, the club’s three current representatives will have their votes removed and their status reduced to non-voting members. The national athletics federations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have half the voting rights instead of a third previously.

We believe these changes have been proposed because UK Sport have written to the UKA President asking for changes to the UKA constitution (its articles) by the end of the month. We also believe that these changes have been linked to funding decisions.

Currently the UKA has a new chairman, Ian Beattie, an interim CEO and a new senior independent director. So it looks like British sport is trying to force changes with a new UKA management team. Moreover, there was no public information until today (January 21), seven days before the decision, on these procedures. Fundamental questions concerning the governance of sport are effectively decided in secrecy. UKA members – the 12 people who effectively “own” the UKA on behalf of various interests – HCAF, coaches, clubs, officials etc. Without our intervention, we believe it is unlikely that there was a public debate before the decisions were made.

Under the existing arrangements, the 12 members of the UKA include elected club representatives, coaches, officials, road runners as well as the HCAFs and a few other appointees. Elected representatives can currently block changes to the constitution under UK company law. They function as the ‘conscience of sport’ through their meetings (formerly known as the UK Members Council or UKA Members) and review the actions of the UKA Board and, these of late have become effective in this area – for example identifying that the loss of the second UK Diamond League meeting (and its associated revenue) was not as depicted in the UKA accounts and took place without the prior approval of the UKA Board.

Clubs might be surprised that control of the UKA is actually handed over to the HCAFs. After consultation in 2021, English clubs voted decisively against this option. So the current proposals appear to be the opposite of what the sport more widely voted for.

The action proposed by the UKA and UK Sport follows the Street Review and the resulting plan for change approved by the UKA and UK Sport in 2020. To date, the proposed changes to ownership and governance of the UKA have probably ignored the most important requirement of the Street Review and the Plan for Change for a review of the purpose and effectiveness of the UKMC and have been largely motivated to produce the result that UK Sport seems to be trying to reach again. The UKA again refused to conduct this review (although we specifically asked its chairman to do so) and the statement that “approval will allow us to meet the last outstanding requirement of the change plan British athletics that followed the Dame Sue Street report” is simply not true in our view.

Why is this important for clubs?

  1. Club representatives will not have the right to vote on the revised British members who will effectively be relegated to second-class citizens in this body. This makes clubs powerless to resist changes the UKA might wish to make in conjunction with the HCAFs, for example to generate more revenue directly from members.
  2. In a sport that requires the support of an enormous amount of volunteer time with clubs at its center, funding bodies say “we matter but you don’t”.
  3. Given the whole Plan was meant to usher in a new collaborative culture in athletics, marginalizing its stakeholders through a process hitherto shrouded in secrecy enforced by non-disclosure agreements hardly seems the best of worlds envisioned.
  4. The idea that clubs are best placed with direct relationships with the HCAFs is debatable where the UKA controls rules, licensing, welfare, protection, health and safety, competition, training and arbitration.

We urge you to use your voice to let UK Sport and UKA know that with three major championships on the horizon why the UK’s ostensibly sporting promoting body seem so keen to hijack the new management team from the UKA of delivering the performances that will bring athletics back to the fore in terms of performance and attractiveness and may well help provide the necessary business investment that the sport so badly needs? Why can’t the two just proceed with the assessment of the options needed and the consultation considered (properly this time, all options considered including no changes) so that decisions are made with openness and promised transparency?

Please let the UKA and UKMC members know that they have your support in pushing UK Sport back on this.

The time for your contribution is short and this is your last chance to have a meaningful involvement.

The UKA can be contacted at: [email protected]

UK Sport can be contacted at: [email protected]

The UKA website lists current members on this link here.

In particular, you could ask UKA and UK Sport:

  1. What is the reason for such changes?
  2. Why have UK Sport been so keen to implement these in the absence of the processes set out in the plan?
  3. What will happen if UKA members reject such proposals?
  4. Will anyone see the letter UK Sport sent to UKA?
  5. How do UK Sport streamline their ‘do this or else’ approach to the required culture changes that were supposed to be brought about by their review and plan?

READ MORE: UKA Member EGM Statement

» Michael Heath MBE is a former vice-chairman of England Athletics and chairman of the British Athletics League and the Athletic Research Group (ARG).

» Tony Shiret is chairman of Newham & Essex Beagles and former chairman of the National Council of England.

» The Athletics Research Group (ARG) is made up of a number of people with extensive knowledge of the national sport at all levels. They decided to form this group as decisions affecting clubs in the UK are increasingly subject to disclosure restrictions. It is a private group and does not claim any mandate. However, its main objective will be to ensure that club issues are placed in the public domain and properly debated.

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