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UK Athletics crisis continues as CEO Joanna Coates and performance director Sara Symington RESIGN

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UK Athletics crisis continues as CEO Joanna Coates QUITS following fiery board meeting after less than two years in the role… and performance director Sara Symington also resigns!

  • Joanna Coates’ reign as CEO has been characterised by unpopular decisions
  • The recruitment of Sara Symington has meanwhile been maligned in the sport
  • A decision to name Christian Malcolm as head coach was also strongly criticised
  • The boiling point came at last month’s Diamond League final in Zurich 


UK Athletics has plummeted to a new low with the dramatic resignations of CEO Joanna Coates and performance director Sara Symington.

Sportsmail understands Coates walked out of the crisis-hit organisation following her participation in a fiery board meeting on Wednesday.

Coates, the former chief of England Netball, departs after less than two tumultuous years in the post. Following her appointment in March 2020, her reign has been plagued by in-fighting and characterised by unpopular decisions.

UK Athletics CEO Joanna Coates has dramatically resigned following a fiery board meeting

UK Athletics CEO Joanna Coates has dramatically resigned following a fiery board meeting

The recruitment of Symington, who had worked under her at England Netball, has been maligned in the sport, with the latter hugely criticised for holding such a significant role despite not having a background in athletics. 

That was followed by the decision to bring in the inexperienced Christian Malcolm as head coach ahead of the strongly favoured Stephen Maguire.

The boiling point came at last month’s Diamond League final in Zurich, when a number of Britain’s leading athletes told World Athletics president Sebastian Coe in the Crowne Plaza hotel that the current set-up was not fit for purpose. 

As revealed by Sportsmail, they expressed significant misgivings about the performance set-up on the back of Britain’s worst Olympics since 1996, and shared concerns about the wider governance of the Coates era.

Performance director Sara Symington - has been maligned in the sport- has also resigned

Performance director Sara Symington – has been maligned in the sport- has also resigned

While Coates had a number of powerful enemies in the sport, there will be sympathy for her within some elements of track and field, given she inherited the organisation in a shambolic state and was immediately confronted by the challenges of the pandemic.

However, her critics will point to a series of major decisions with questionable outcomes, including the failure to renew their lucrative BBC deal, which continues to leave UKA in a perilous financial state. 

Giving up a Diamond League slot in Gateshead has also been hammered, along with the key personnel appointments of Symington and Malcolm, and indeed the situation that led to the departure of the highly-respected events boss Cherry Alexander. 

The decision to bring in the inexperienced Christian Malcolm as head coach was also criticised

The decision to bring in the inexperienced Christian Malcolm as head coach was also criticised

Further criticism has recently been made of UKA by the broadcaster Charlie Webster over their response to her recent documentary into historic abuses she suffered in the sport.

Prominent sources in athletics have now speculated to Sportsmail that the new chairman Ian Beattie, who only started in the post on Thursday, might turn to Maguire to fill Symington’s role. 

If they can persuade their former relays guru to come back, it will be seen as a particularly progressive move after losing him to Sport Ireland in the aftermath of being overlooked for Malcolm. 

There will also be a clamour for former Olympic runner Jack Buckner to be poached as CEO after his immense success in charge of British Swimming.

A number of Britain's leading athletes told Sebastian Coe (above) last month the current set-up was not fit for purpose

A number of Britain’s leading athletes told Sebastian Coe (above) last month the current set-up was not fit for purpose

UK Athletics did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

The latest criticisms of the organisation came on Tuesday, when Sportsmail revealed that a number of leading coaches were unhappy with the allocation of Lottery money, pointing out that their athletes had not been given performance reviews prior to funding decisions. 

That was in contradiction of suggestions from Symington in an email on September 17.

Many of the top coaches have been left confused and angry after being told that coaching consultancies would be terminated, including Andy Young, who guided Laura Muir to an Olympic silver medal.

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