IT has been just over a year since it was announced that Katherine Grainger was to become the new Chair of UK Sport and while the former Olympic rowing champion is far too wily to have anticipated anything other than an almighty challenge heading up this country’s national governing body, even she could have been forgiven for failing to foresee quite what would be thrown at her in her first year in charge.

Grainger, who is Britain’s most decorated female Olympian with four silvers and a gold medal, has been faced with serious issues regarding athlete welfare as well as a number of disputes about how funding is allocated within elite sport and that the body is too medal-focussed.

Grainger admits the welfare issue, which has seen a number of athletes make claims about their treatment, is immensely tricky but she is also quick to point out that elite sport is a tough environment, and one that doesn’t necessarily suit everyone.

But however brutal elite sport can be, there are a number of conditions that should always be adhered to.

“I think there’s been a lot of change of people’s mindsets with all the stories that people read over last year and you don’t want to read a single one of them,” Grainger told Herald Sport.

“I’ve been in sport for a very long time and I adore sport, I believe it does great things for people. So it’s heart-breaking to read any stories about athletes or staff who have less than great experiences.

“It is a tough environment and I acknowledge that not everyone will leave feeling that they’ve had the time of their life. In any area of life where you have people trying to be the best in the world, it brings challenges. I think people recognise that it’s not always going to be comfortable or easy but I think everyone agrees that it should be respectful and fair and that’s the important bit. It shouldn’t ever be soft but it should still be a very positive environment. The stories that came to the fore last year were important and valuable in that it made people realise that things are not perfect and they can and need to be better.”

As for the accusation that UK Sport is too medal-focussed, to the detriment of the sport as a whole as well as the athletes involved, Grainger disputes that there has been significant change in anything other than the media attention trained on the targets.

“As far as I’m aware, there’s always been medal targets,” she said.

“I was speaking to athletes the other day and from their point of view, it’s the media that has pushed the issue to the fore.

“I’ve been there as an athlete and you want to be as successful as possible and for some, that’s about winning medals. But it’s also about enabling everyone in the system to achieve whatever their potential is.”

Grainger was talking during UK Coaching Week, which aims to promote the role of coaches at all levels of sport. And she admits that having experienced first-hand the significant impact coaches can have on athletes, she is keen to celebrate their role.

“I think it’s important to raise the profile of coaching across all levels,” she said.

“Their stories don’t always get told or their achievements celebrated in the same way. So it’s important to have this week to celebrate what they do and what makes a great coach.”

Grainger has talked regularly about the challenge athletes face in transitioning from life as a sportsperson into retirement from sport and the 42-year-old admits that she is no different. Still something of a newcomer to this role she is, she admits, still constantly learning but she has a number of things she would like to accomplish over the coming months and years.

“This role is a huge learning curve for me,” she admitted.

“The biggest thing at the moment is our public consultation - at board level, we’ve got to make strategic decisions looking long-term about how we’re going to invest the money. The thing I’ve realised since I came into this role is that everyone, whether they’re involved in sport or not, has an opinion on sport and where money should be invested.

“Everyone at UK Sport felt was there is a huge interest from the public and this is public money so therefore, a public consultation should go out and see where the mood is.

“At board level, we’ve started looking at different strategies and we’ll make decisions in the new year. So that’s a huge responsibility to help to shape the future is for high-performance sport. It’s a very exciting challenge though and a great place to be.”