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UK Athletics adopts zero-tolerance policy for abusive coaches

The CEO of UK Athletics wants a lifetime ban for abusive coaches

On February 12, elite track and field athletes from the U.K. sent an open letter to UK Athletics (UKA) CEO Joanna Coates calling for zero-tolerance lifetime bans for coaches found to be guilty of physical or sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse. The athletes included pole vaulter Anna Gordon, Welsh runner Kate Seary and 10,000m runner Mhairi Maclennan. Since then, the letter has been signed by over 1,200 athletes from more than 600 clubs, including other notable elite athletes like world 4 x 400m medallist Lina Nielsen, Olympian Ross Millington and world 50K record holder Aly Dixon, and has now been backed by UKA.

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According to news site athleticsweekly.com, Coates has said that she “completely and utterly” agrees that certain coaching violations are deserving of a lifetime ban, and that a review of the governing body’s policies is underway. She pointed out that while making a statement now may help, what is more important is that the UKA’s policies and procedures reflect their words.

“I cannot lead an organization where people do not feel safe,” Coates told the BBC. “We absolutely are going to set a zero-tolerance policy without a shadow of a doubt.”

In 2020, criminal and regulatory law barrister Christopher Quinlan conducted an independent review for UKA to evaluate its safeguarding policies and procedures, and Coates admitted that after his review, UKA officials knew they had a lot of work to do. She noted that the organization has been working through that review, and will be publishing more results at the end of March. She also pointed out that there are provisions for coaches to receive lifetime bans, and any coach who receives a suspension will have their case reviewed when their suspension is up.

“We will ensure there is a lifetime ban that we can give if what comes before us, the result needs to be a lifetime ban,” said Coates. “I would say if it is sexual misconduct, it’s a lifetime ban. Physical abuse, I would say is a lifetime ban. If they’re prosecuted through the criminal system, it’s a lifetime ban.”

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Seary, Maclennan and Gordon expressed their gratitude toward the support their letter has received, saying they were “massively overwhelmed, humbled and motivated by the response and support we have received.”

“For me, just to know that no other young girl is going to walk into an athletics track and see the coach that hurt them coaching again – to know that would just be incredible,” said Gordon.

Coates also said that the organization needs to do more to make sure that their policies and procedures are clear and consistent, and a new safeguarding software called MyConcern has been launched as a way for people to report any concerns.

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