A watershed moment for British Triathlon?

It’s not often that the sport of triathlon makes headlines in The Sunday Times – and rarely does it do so without relating to the ups and downs of the Brownlee brothers.

That changed yesterday, with a headline of ‘Absence of leadership claim made against ‘toxic’ Triathlon Scotland‘.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE LINK

The article centres, primarily, around the feedback of Triathlon Scotland’s Lead Performance Coach, Mark Turner, who joined the organisation in May 2019. “Shocked and appalled” by what he has experienced, he described his reasons for speaking out as being in the hope of “a catalyst for change”. He goes on to describe Triathlon Scotland CEO, Jane Moncreiff, and Performance Director, Fiona Lothian, as “out of their depth.” His testimony includes approaching the Triathlon Scotland board with written statements featuring allegations of bullying from current and former athletes, coaches and athletes’ parents.

The article then further quotes athletes – under the condition of anonymity – past and present from the Elite squad, of issues relating to “if your face doesn’t fit, they want nothing to do with you”, and “I was bullied by staff and didn’t feel welcome.”

In response, a Triathlon Scotland spokesman was quoted as, “Triathlon Scotland is committed to ensuring it is a positive place to work… Evidence from an independent investigation, supported by a leading sports law firm, does not in any way recognise the claims made. While the investigation is complete, the internal process is yet to conclude, however we are very comfortable rejecting the statements and claims made.”

What next?

You may be forgiven for thinking that elements of the above sound familiar. Recent and current cases and claims involving British Cycling and UK Athletics, to name just two, certainly have similar hallmarks of claim and counter-claim and some of the issues raised cut across all three.

One thing I do know is that Elite sport is not an easy world to be in:

  • Athletes are under pressure to perform / qualify / make the team / gain funding and sponsorship.
  • Coaches are under pressure to talent ID future stars / gain trust / win medals / deliver the best coaching and hit KPI’s / obtain resources for science, training and more to optimise performance
  • Administrators and ‘Governing Body’ are under pressure to hit targets from UK Sport, obtain / retain / increase funding, reduce costs, maintain governance, win medals… while also meeting the diverse requirements of its membership base.

And that’s just a 30-second brain dump – add that all together, and you cannot avoid a high-pressure environment. Throw in selection policies, access to medical services, coaching… well, it’s a tough environment, with a lot of pressure for all involved.

Now, what is essential is how the sport reacts

If there is one thing we (should) have learned over recent years, it’s that being transparent is essential. And that also means that those individuals accused, and the governing body itself, also get a fair chance to put forward their case and, where appropriate, defend themselves.

Governance in Sports National Governing Bodies is certainly not my area of expertise, but avoiding the half-truths and tall tales of L-Carnitine injections, jiffy bags, dodgy doctors and multi-year investigations that continue in Cycling and Athletics can’t happen here. Just last week, Toni Minichello, the coach of Jessica Ennis-Hill highlighted the transparency issue in relation trust.

Does that mean a (fresh) independent review? Perhaps that means publication of investigation that has already taken place? I don’t know the best way forward, but I’m confident that the governing body being upfront and, if necessary, proactively calling in somebody (UK Sport?) to clear its name and/or learn from previous mistakes, would be far better received than months and years of innuendo and accusations with no progress made or solutions reached.

Public perception of elite sport has changed and any perceived  element of ‘brushing it under the carpet’ – even if the evidence refuting all of the allegations is watertight – is unlikely to wash in the current environment.

CLICK HERE FOR TRIATHLON SCOTLAND STATEMENT