UK Athletics boss out to ‘reinvent’ track and field after loss of flagship event

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The new boss of British athletics has pledged to “reinvent” the stricken sport in this country after its flagship event was lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

The forced cancellation of the Anniversary Games will cost UK Athletics £1 million and leaves it heavily reliant on UK Sport securing extra government funding to get it through the global crisis.

Joanna Coates, chief executive of UKA, admitted cancelling their biggest money-spinner would have a “significant financial impact” and would mean a “substantial” reduction in income for the governing body.

But rather than cry over spilt milk she came out fighting – declaring that it offered up an opportunity to give athletics as a spectator sport a “facelift”.

“What we need to do is create events that are more relevant and sell out,” said Coates. “The Muller Anniversary Games has not been selling out recently. Fans have been voting with their money and saying ‘we don’t want to come and watch this any more’.

“I think athletes feel the same. Quite a few have kind of said ‘we want our events to be a bit more sexy’. I think we can do that.

“We need to understand we’re competing with the cinema, all sorts of things. We’re after people’s time.

“I believe we can create much more relevant events, shorter in format, where you still get a crowd but you don’t have the massive operational costs that come with putting two days on at the London Stadium.”

Coates enjoyed significant success popularising netball in her previous job through a 10-year strategy of growing participation then persuading recreational players to become fans.

“Athletics has got more recreational runners than I ever had netballers to turn into fans of the sport who ultimately buy a ticket,” she said. “But the offer has to be right and the offer at the moment is not right.”

Referring to world champions Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, she added: “Look at the incredible role models in athletics that are household names. We didn’t have that in netball.

“These are incredible women at the absolute peak of their career. We don’t use them enough. We’ve got millions of people actually taking part in this sport. We don’t talk to them enough.

“So the basis of the sport is there. It just needs reigniting and a plan putting in place. This sport has not had a plan for quite a few years.

“We’re going to ask fans what kind of event they want to come to and we’ll ask the athletes what kind of event they want to participate in. Then we’ll reinvent it.”

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