ON the track, 2020 is shaping up to be quite a year for British athletics.

With the Olympic Games now less than six months away, things are looking good in terms of GB athletes challenging for medals come Tokyo, with the likes of Dina Asher-Smith, Laura Muir, Mo Farah and a number of others in-line to be pushing for a spot on the podium.

However, off the track, there was some less positive news this week with the announcement that UK Sport has commissioned an independent review into UK Athletics because of issues that have raised “major concerns”.

The review will examine “the strategy, leadership, governance, operation, culture and connectivity of UK Athletics” to ensure it is “fit for the future”.

It has certainly been a turbulent year and a half for UK Athletics, with a number of issues damaging its reputation.

The governing body faced intense criticism for its handling of its relationship with Alberto Salazar, the American distance running coach who headed the Nike Oregon Project but has recently been banned for doping violations. UK Athletics allowed Farah to continue working with Salazar despite the BBC’s Panorama programme highlighting issues in 2015 about Salazar’s coaching practices but at the time, UK Athletics found there was “no reason to be concerned” and cleared the Olympic gold medallist to remain working with him.

UK Athletics received funding of £27 million for this current Olympic cycle, but the organisation has been damaged by several embarrassing issues, with performance director, Neil Black, leaving his role after the Salazar verdict, its incoming chief executive, Zara Hyde Peters, stepping down before she had even started in the role after failing to disclose to her local athletics club her husband’s “inappropriate relationship” with a 15-year-old girl, and the body has a deficit of £2 million pounds due, at least in part, to the decision to stage its prestigious World Cup on the same weekend as the Wimbledon finals and football World Cup.

Last month, former performance director of UK Athletics and former coach of Scottish hurdler, Eilidh Doyle, said the sport was in its worst state for 60 years.

“This is undoubtedly the most worried I have been in all my years in the sport,” he told the Guardian.

“Coach and athlete development structures barely exist now and have suffered serial and serious decline since London 2012, which was supposed to be a point in time when British sport took off from this incredible launch pad.”

Arnold’s words were shocking as, at first glance, athletics in Britain is in an incredibly healthy state.

But this is often the downfall of seemingly successful sports – a handful of world-class athletes can paper over a plethora of cracks further down the chain.

Jess Varnish’s case against British Cycling, where she accused the body of bullying, was dismissed in some quarters because of the success of other athletes in the programme. How could a sport which produces so many global medallists be a bad environment?

But that is exactly the issue. If a few exceptional athletes bring success to the sport, it is easy to take your eye off the ball when it comes to other areas of the running of the sport.

Success only happens consistently is the sport is healthy and well-run from top to bottom.

Incidentally, this is where Scottish Athletics have got it right – as impressive as the elite athletes are in this country, Scottish Athletics put in as much time and energy, if not more, to growing the grassroots of the sport and encouraging participation.

Athletics in Scotland has not always been in such a healthy state so it proves that transformation can happen. However, it remains to be seen if UK Athletics choose to heed the advice of this review, and its actions will have a long-term impact on the sport.


Despite thousands upon thousands of words being written and spoken about the Gregor Townsend – Finn Russell fall-out, there appears to be no sign of a resolution.

Almost four weeks on from Russell’s departure from the Scotland camp, there is still not a clear picture about what exactly the issue is, or who is most at fault.

Blame can be apportioned on both sides – Russell should be toeing the line better than he currently is, Townsend should probably not have allowed things to get to the stage where the player felt the best way forward was to go to the press with his issues.

And while Russell has certainly not behaved perfectly in this whole saga, I think there is something quite admirable about the fly-half speaking out despite the possibility of it wrecking his international career.

Russell is almost certainly nearer the end of his playing career than the beginning and considering how short an elite sporting career is, it’s hard to not see the thinking behind Russell speaking out when he believes the current set-up is so damaging.

In an ideal world, both Russell and Townsend would have handled things differently, with things playing out in private rather than public.

Despite rugby being a team game, players should still be treated as individuals and so if Russell’s words help that in any way, it will be a good thing for Scottish Rugby.