FRANK DICK stepped down yesterday as chair of scottishathletics, with the ink barely dry on a strategy document which was his brainchild and several posts linked to it still waiting to be filled.
The precipitate departure of this perceived white knight – former Scotland and UK national coach from the sport's golden era – makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that this is now a sport in crisis.
A perception that if Dick could not improve the sport's performance profile then nobody could is calculated to haunt successors. The departure coincided with the unveiling of a 39-strong GB team for the World Indoor Championships without a single Scot. That's not calculated to boost optimism.
Dick's public valedictory comments struck predictable chords: "It's been an honour . . . I firmly believe we've achieved a great deal . . . Our sport is stronger than it has been for some years ... The challenge is to continue that progression as we approach the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow . . . As I pass the baton, I wish our athletes at all levels every success."
Privately, there was a discordant note. We have frequently discussed his frustration with lack of progress. The reason for his resignation was, he said: "Sheer geographic distance [between his London home and Scotland]. It was a headache for me to be as effective as I should be. Modern technology was not able to counter the geographic distance in terms of day-to-day leadership."
He was told this honorary unpaid job would take "about one day per month. In fact it has averaged three hours a day".
In the professional structure of Scottish sport – within and outwith the governing body – some will be glad he has gone, however. They have told me so privately on pain of confidentiality. They cite Dick's alleged over-close scrutiny contributing to the departure, after barely a year, of national coach Laurier Primeau, and of friction between Dick and Primeau's interim successor, Steve Rippon, now also departed. A third head coach is now sought in little over a year, with Dick, most experienced in such appointments, now also gone.
These staff departures prompted a major scottishathletics strategy review in which Dick proposed appointing a full-time director of coaching, athlete pathway and talent manager, and performance programmes manager. All remain pending.
There seemed sorrow in Dick's voice as he spoke of resignation: "Probably I belong to another era, and it's important the sport is given something positive to move on.
"I don't want the sport to bruise more than it has. It's the right decision for everybody. There are all sorts of pressures in my life and for scottishathletics. They need somebody there in a greater presence. I like to be involved, but could not be involved at that distance.
"Some great kids at the moment around Scotland will be in with more of a shout than people thought come 2014, and some really good news coming on performance. These are stories for the future. I am a story of the past. Appointments will be made in the near future, which is great. And every good wish to my successor."
Despite his protestations, I can't help feeling Dick leaves almost exactly 42 years after his appointment as Scottish national coach, with unfinished business –and several records set in 1970 still standing. "Some quite rightly stand the test of time because they were good records," he said, "but others really should have gone by now. We did drop back, but we do have people who will challenege, I think, for medals – plural – in 2014. It's unfortunate that I can't take the next step with them.
"The abrupt nature of his departure, and recent criticism and innuendo prompts me to explore whether Dick was levered out. "Not at all," said the scottishathletics chief executive, Nigel Holl. "We are making very good progress with the appointment of the performance team and Frank has been central in both the design of the new structure and the interviews we have held. His input has been pivotal. There is no crisis. I think he has helped get us into a much stronger position. We are very grateful and are sorry he has stepped down."
New appointments are imminent, but further change may only be weeks away. A general audit of the sport by Deloittes, initiated by sportscotland, is looking at all aspects of the sport. "It is of no concern to me," said Holl. "We will use any information from it, I'm sure, very positivly."
And another thing
Sportscotland meet with ceos and chairs of Scottish governing bodies today at the Norton Hotel, near Edinburgh. On the agenda is greater transparency, lack of which has prompted recent criticism. They aim to develop relationships with sports and ensure "a candid honest relationship based on mutual respect".
"We want to share what has been going on with key partners," said the quango's chief executive, Stewart Harris. "We are keen to improve openness and transparency and we will take every opportuity to be clear on expectations – ours and that of governing bodies, especially around funding negotiations."
As part of Project Rio (2016 Olympics) more funding will be available, and that will be unveiled to their constituency today for the first time. "It's just concepts at present," said Harris. "We ned to flesh that out, but we're genuinely talking about new resources being available."