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UK Athletics announces ambitious new 12-year strategy

CEO Joanna Coates sets out 'Athletics Unified' plans for 2020-2032

“Nine million regular participants by 2032”. This is just one of the major goals set out in an ambitious long-term plan for athletics in the UK drafted by Joanna Coates, who began her new role as Chief Executive of UK Athletics (UKA) on 18th March 2020. 

Coates, with her recently refreshed top team at UKA, has been busy since her move from CEO at England Netball and her first task was to manage the massive disruption caused by the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, which was announced just six days into her tenure.

The new 12-year strategy was published just as England entered Lockdown 2.0 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The plan is called 'Athletics Unified 2020-2032' and it has a rather different tone to previous documents. The overarching aim is to bring all aspects of athletics and para-athletics together, with the guiding principle being to put the athlete first.

There is a shift away from a focus on winning major games medals at all costs and a far greater emphasis on participation and enjoyment from grassroots through to elite level. The goals to be reached by 2032 include having a participant in every discipline at all senior international events; retaining 250,000 registered athletes across the UK and making athletics, running and wheelchair racing the nations' choice to stay active with over nine million regular participants.        

A key element is to bring all four nations together to realise this commendable vision. With international teams selected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland at major games, one could be forgiven for believing this was already the case but apparently not according to Coates, who has been very clear in her analysis of the health of the sport she now leads.

Coates said: “This is a significant opportunity for the sport and the first time that all five governing bodies have come together as equal partners to build a united strategy for athletics in the UK, one that they will deliver together in collaboration. I’m delighted that we are all united behind these three aspirations and that the new working group format will ensure we are working jointly on these key priority areas.”

The strategy highlights many concerns with the current structure, culture, collaboration, and communication, along with declining standards and decreasing participation in track and field. However, there are encouraging signs of continued growth in what the document terms the 'Athletics and Running Family', with seven million social runners participating at least twice a month; 225,000 registered athletes (80% of whom compete off-track) and 200,000 Group Runners (RunTogether, JogScotland, RunWales, RunNI) supported by nearly 90,000 coaches, leaders, officials, and club volunteers. 

The 17-page strategy was launched this month with the full backing of England Athletics, Scottish Athletics, Welsh Athletics, and Athletics Northern Ireland, following a major programme of consultation with over 300 athletics clubs and the full document is available here

Image courtesy UK Athletics press release

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