Coaches found guilty of physical or sexual misconduct should receive a mandatory lifetime ban from the sport, says UK Athletics’ boss Joanna Coates.
Chief executive Coates says she’s committed to changing UK Athletics’ policies so permanent bans are issued in abuse cases and will raise the issue at the next board meeting.
Currently, lifetime bans can be given but are not applied in all cases.
“I cannot lead an organisation where people do not feel safe,” Coates said.
It comes after a recent campaign said it was “unacceptable” for coaches who are found to have breached the terms of their licence in the context of physical or sexual misconduct to be given shorter bans.
Athletes Anna Gordon, Kate Seary and Mhairi Maclennan wrote an open letter to her – signed by almost 2,000 people – saying that recent cases had highlighted the risks of this policy.
The British Athletes Commission, British athletes Jazmin Sawyers, Hannah England and Adelle Tracey, and some top coaches put their names to the letter.
“We absolutely are going to set a zero tolerance policy without a shadow of a doubt,” Coates said.
“We will ensure there is a lifetime ban that we can give if what comes before us, the result needs to be a lifetime ban.
“I would say if it is sexual misconduct, it’s a lifetime ban. Physical abuse, I would say is a lifetime ban. If they’re prosecuted through the criminal system, it’s a lifetime ban.”
Coates said she hopes the policy could be changed “within four to six weeks”.
Seary, the 2020 Welsh indoor 1500m champion, said they were taken aback by the level of support the campaign had received, adding: “I don’t think it can be ignored now.”
On the signatures from a number of coaches, she said: “That shows a real message that fellow coaches aren’t going to stand for it any more and they will speak out if they see it.”
Gordon, a 10-time Scottish pole vault champion who has retired from athletics, set up a website last year on safeguarding called Signpost to Safety.
She said: “I don’t think anybody understood that the coaches in our sport, some of them may potentially have already been banned for harming athletes.”
Asked what it would mean if the policy was changed, she said: “For me, just to know that no other young girl is going to walk into an athletics track and see the coach that hurt them coaching again – to know that would just be incredible.”
UKA said it would currently be unlikely for a coach to be reinstated after a ban but Coates accepted it needs to change the policy and culture so that all their policies are consistent and there are no loopholes.
She said there needed to be some flexibility in the system to give the option of a shorter sentence in cases where misconduct was not sexual, aggressive or physical.
But for instances of physical or sexual abuse, she said: “We absolutely will change that, we’ll change the culture, we’ll change the policies and we’ll make sure that people receive the relevant sanctions.
“I know some people will be looking and thinking ‘Can they really do it? Do they really mean it?’ Yes, we really, really mean it.”