UK Athletics: Joanna Coates can bring ‘sustainable change’ in coaching, says report author

The author of a report that has highlighted “significant cultural and systemic problems” in high performance athletics coaching in the UK has told Sky Sports News that she was disheartened by her findings.

However, Professor Leanne Norman, who was the Lead Author of ‘Achieving Gender Equity in High Performance Athletics Coaching in the UK’, believes the chief executive of UK Athletics, Joanna Coates, is “brave, open, fair and firm,” and that with her leadership there is hope of sustainable change.

Her report, through Leeds Beckett University and the Female Coaching Network, found that many female coaches had ‘negative encounters’ with male coaches, incidents of sexual harassment and low representation levels in the elite system.

Norman told Sky Sports News: “There was an assumption about what men and women can do and the current system leans towards men.

“It’s such a results first sport, so welfare was not always a priority. It’s an unregulated, unprofessional coaching system.

“Largely a system where most are not paid for their efforts, so it is open to abuse. I’m not surprised by the findings, but I am disheartened and angry to hear these stories in 2021.”

Professor Norman stressed the efforts of Coates could lead to sustainable diversity and change and that her leadership would be a model that other sporting governing bodies should look at.

Norman said: “I’m impressed with Jo. She’s brave, open, fair and firm and she’s driving change. The leadership gives hope as the research provides the evidence and it is now how it is acted upon.

“There won’t be overnight change, if it happens too quickly it won’t work, it will be a mirage. We are looking at more like five to five years.”

Coates provided a statement to Sky Sports News in response Professor Norman’s research which read: “Firstly, I would like to thank the Female Coaching Network for sharing the findings with me a couple of months ago and also involving me with some of the discussions with the coaches involved in the research, I hope that this proves that we are building trust with groups that previously have felt they were marginalised or excluded by our sport.

“The insight gathered from the study will definitely help us in creating our new coaching strategy and structure, and we really welcome the amount of work put in by the Female Coaching Network, the Research Centre for Social Justice in Sport & Society and the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett University.

“Some of the findings of the study I don’t believe are particularly gender specific, it has been clear to me from day one that we need to professionalise coaching, increase the development opportunities and we need to stop this culture of poaching, those are not gender-specific issues.

“I also believe this isn’t about needing more programmes that encourage women to be coaches because this isn’t just about increasing numbers. The statistics show we have a sport filled with excellent highly successful female coaches, we need to change the environment in which they operate and improve the experience.

“However, the sexual harassment is definitely aimed at women. And similarly to the recent concerns raised around safeguarding, we should completely and utterly have a zero tolerance for anything like this within our sport

“But in order to achieve this we need to create a culture where everybody feels safe to come forward and tell us what is going on. Individuals need to know that once they’ve come forward they’ll be listened to and treated fairly and they’ll be supported through a process which enables us to deal with these people that we do not want in our sport.

“I urge anybody, who is currently feeling like they are in a situation that is not right for them to come forward to UK Athletics so we can put those situations right. It is not acceptable, we will make this change and we will have a zero tolerance policy moving forward.”

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