Kate Seary: Welsh Athletics has failed athletes after coach Phil Banning abuse conviction

Phil Banning pictured in 2006
Phil Banning, pictured here in 2006, is a former Team GB runner

Welsh indoor 1500m champion Kate Seary says Welsh Athletics has failed in its duties after former coach Phil Banning was convicted of abusing girls.

Banning was jailed for seven and a half years in 2019 for abusing girls.

Seary, 23, was coached by Banning for a decade and, though she was not abused, says her mental health has suffered since his conviction.

"It is the duty of Welsh Athletics not only to support their athletes but to protect them," she wrote on Instagram.

"I believe in, this case, they have failed in these duties."

Welsh Athletics said it was "aware of concerns regarding how it has supported athletes who have previously been coached by Phil Banning".

The governing body added: "To reiterate our comment on 12 August 2019,external-link we encourage any athletes, coach, parent who has any concerns or further information to contact the NSPCC on their 24-hour helpline 0808 800 5000.

"The welfare of our athletes and those who support them is paramount to Welsh Athletics, and we are committed to supporting our members in any way we can.

"We would request that any requirement for support be submitted via email to equalityandsafeguarding@welshathletics.org and we will ensure specific support is made available."

Banning, 69, abused four girls - the youngest of whom was 10 - between 1976 and 1982 at Andover Athletics Club in Hampshire. He pleaded guilty to 18 counts of indecent assault.

The conviction did not relate to his time with Welsh Athletics, where he worked with Seary in his capacity as director of performance.

"I was coached by Phil from the age of about 11-12, up until the age of about 18-19. He was my coach the whole way through," Seary told BBC Sport Wales.

"When I knew him he was like a father figure to me and the group as a whole.

"When [it] came out that he'd pleaded guilty, it was quite heart-breaking because I didn't want to believe it obviously. I think that's the same with a lot of the other people.

"I think a lot of us are struggling with trusting other people, because someone we trusted so much has turned out to be someone we didn't think they were."

Kate Seary
Kate Seary became Welsh Indoor 1500m champion in January 2020

Seary, from Cardiff, published an open letter to Welsh Athletics on her Instagram page expressing frustration over the "appalling" way the governing body had acted in the wake of Banning's conviction.

She hopes the letter will help others who may have been affected.

Seary told BBC Sport Wales that, after Banning's conviction, she struggled mentally despite her personal support and felt the need "to reach out and stand up for people".

She added: "I found that they were having very similar experiences. I then kind of realised, actually we'd been failed by our governing body who should have been there to help us out, and should have been there to support us in a time that's so turbulent and so distressing.

"I just think it was a kind of oversight and a mistake really that we weren't supported.

"I think it's so damaging and kind of saddening that it didn't happen and that wasn't the first point of call - to check your own athletes were OK.

"I know there was a number I could have called, to the NSPCC - that number was given out. But that's not enough. That's not having a personal conversation with someone and letting them know they are there.

"I think there's a lot of people that are struggling now that may not have been because the support wasn't there."

Seary felt abandoned by Welsh Athletics

Seary, who insisted she does not blame any individual at Welsh Athletics, says she has suffered "periods of debilitating anxiety" since Banning's conviction.

"I think racing, the last couple of months, there has always been something in the back of my head," she added.

"The places that I train are very familiar and bring back different memories. That's very difficult.

"Shortly after the convictions I moved to the University of Portland in Oregon. I ended up coming home early and am no longer on a sports scholarship because of mental health issues and struggling out there, so things could be very different if I'd got the support.

"I am not saying things definitely would have been different. I may well have had some mental health issues anyway, but having that support could only have helped."

Seary, who represents Cardiff Amateur Athletics Club, called for a Welsh Athletics inquiry "to investigate any possible further abuse" and to support all athletes coached by Banning.

She has been contacted by Welsh Athletics since publishing her letter on Tuesday.

"They have offered for me to talk directly with them and help them on how I think they could support us," she said.

"I think first it's contacting the people that they know had immediate contact with Phil Banning - to make sure there was no further abuse later down the line, and also just to point people in the direction of getting mental health support if they need it.

"That is the real tone of the athletes he was coached by - that we haven't been told someone's there for us."

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by issues covered in this article, help and support is available at BBC Action Line.

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