'UK Athletics would take hefty blow if Anniversary Games not at London Stadium'

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
Joanna Coates
Joanna Coates took over as chief executive of UK Athletics in February after Chris Clark stood down as chairman

The new head of UK Athletics (UKA) said the organisation's finances would take "a hefty blow" if the coronavirus crisis meant it could not stage July's Anniversary Games at London Stadium.

Chief executive Joanna Coates told BBC Sport she is "not prepared to walk away" from talks aimed at resolving a dispute with West Ham United over the venue.

The governing body reconfigures the stadium each summer to stage its flagship event.

But West Ham may still be using the stadium in July if the suspended football season resumes.

The Premier League club are principal tenants and enjoy primary use of a venue owned by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).

"We still want to continue conversations to see whether or not it is possible that we can all have our events," said Coates, just three weeks into her new role.

"The Premier League haven't said when their season may restart, so while there's a hope… we don't want to walk away.

"It's been reported a lot of the conversations are between ourselves and West Ham. They're not actually, they're between ourselves and... the LLDC because we contract with them.

"So if government is saying that we can have mass gatherings, we still really want to hold that. It is very important for us, it's important for athletes.

"If we don't have the Anniversary Games in July that is not good because that's a big income generator for us.

"We do understand that the Premier League are controlling fixtures so there's a lot of parties at work here, and we understand that West Ham want to play their remaining fixtures. But we are still having conversations in the background that we want the Anniversary Games to go ahead."

Coates will start furloughing a quarter of her office staff this week as UKA looks to cut costs, but says there is no immediate threat of bankruptcy.

"From a cash position, we're in a very strong position at the moment," she said. "So I don't think that's right for us to go to (funding agency) UK Sport and start asking for additional funding."

Having made her name while in charge of England Netball, Coates has been tasked with leading UKA's recovery after a sustained period of crisis and controversy.

Last year Richard Bowker left his role as chair following a vote of no-confidence and Zara Hyde-Peters, after being appointed chief executive, did not take up the role following safeguarding allegations about her husband.

Great Britain won just five medals at the World Championships - the lowest since 2005.

"I think this is a sport that is completely out of shape," said Coates. "It's fractured, but it's fixable.

"It's about reuniting the sport, it's about connecting the sport of all levels. I think this is about showing strong leadership to bring all that together.

"Anybody who thinks there isn't a huge amount of change that's needed here is just not well-informed at all."

Last month, UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) criticised UKA for not releasing the outcome of its 2015 review into how it handled its relationship with Mo Farah's disgraced former coach Alberto Salazar, despite "repeated" requests.

"We haven't handed that over yet," said Coates.

"That's not because we don't want to hand it over, but there are elements of confidentiality in that report that means we cannot.

"There is a process we have to follow to ensure we have the correct levels of confidentiality upheld.

"And at the moment, we don't have clarity that we can hand that document over. I really want to make it clear this isn't that we don't want to.

"But we have been criticised so many times for not following the process. And it's tripped us up, endlessly. I think that this time we are following process."

Coates said she was "pretty confident" the review would be handed to Ukad within the next 10 days.

Last month UKA published an independent report which found the governing body took "reasonable" decisions on Salazar, but said its implementation "could have been better".

Salazar was appointed as a consultant to UKA's endurance programme in 2013 after he masterminded Farah's 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics.

Salazar was banned from the sport for four years in October 2019 after being found guilty of doping violations following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) and a two-year court battle.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Farah, who has never been accused of breaking anti-doping rules.

"We have been investigated, we've been reviewed, we've been audited like not many other sports have, and all I can do is take the recommendations, and looking forward, make sure there are processes in place where we do not make those mistakes again," said Coates.

"I hope we can drive this organisation forward now and move it into the future. But always remember that something like this happened.

"We need to challenge the behaviour throughout the entire sport and create a very different culture.

"I would never have taken this role if I thought this was a disaster and there was no way for this sport to go.

"When I started at netball I knew that was an untapped gem that could be taken somewhere else. Athletics is not starting from a low base with the role models that we have."