WATCHING the Tokyo Olympics through a Scottish lens, as most of us in this country invariably do, it was easy to believe British track and field is in a supremely healthy state.

A dozen Scots in the team, silver and bronze from Laura Muir and Josh Kerr respectively, and further athletes making finals was an impressive return.

However, the UK-wide picture is considerably less rosy.

It was the first time since 1996 the team had returned home without an Olympic gold, and the total of only six medals was seen as a considerable let-down.

It was revealed last week that several of Britain’s track and field stars approached Seb Coe following the conclusion of the Diamond League finals in Zurich last week and told him they are at breaking point with UK Athletics, willing the former Olympic champion and current president of World Athletics to intervene.

Numerous athletes have, it has been said, expressed a lack of confidence in the UKA performance team, led by Sara Symington and Christian Malcolm, as well as the UKA chief executive Jo Coates. One of the individuals present said the approach to Coe had been done “for the good of the sport because things need dramatic and immediate change”.

For the blue riband Olympic sport, which receives tens of millions of pounds of funding, to be in such a state of disquiet is shocking.

Certainly, an Olympic medal tally does not tell the entire picture. As everyone knows, Olympic fortunes can turn on a sixpence; but for a stroke of luck here or there, namely sprinter Dina Asher-Smith having had a fortnight longer to recover from injury or heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson not picking up a niggle which resulted in her withdrawal, the picture from Tokyo could have looked very different.

But that luck wasn’t there and, is so often the case, that absence of fortune has ensured no cracks are papered over and the athletes are far more at ease voicing their displeasure with the system.

Four-time Olympian Malcolm seemed a respectable choice for head coach of the British Athletics programme when he was appointed last year, but he is said to be out of his depth, while performance director Symington, is a former cyclist and has been criticised for her coaching methods.

I am not one who believes that individuals from outwith a sport cannot come in and make improvements.  Indeed, on occasion, a fresh set of eyes can be exactly what is needed.

But there is a limit, and insider knowledge is vital to run a programme of the significance of the British Athletics Olympic programme.

If the rumours are to believed, and there is rarely smoke without fire when it comes to stories such as this, several athletes are considering leaving the programme, which would see them forfeit their right to lottery funding as well as other support from the governing body.

Such a drastic move is practically unheard of. Making it without the help and support of your governing body is not impossible, but it is exceedingly hard.

For athletes to be considering leaving the programme entirely suggests things are in crisis.

Often the major Olympic sports, which have a tradition of global success, can fall into the trap of complacency. Previous success in no way guarantees future success, particularly in a world in which many more countries are investing in sport than did in the 80s and 90s.

British Athletics have not fallen off the cliff yet. But it seems the sport is perilously close to disaster. 

Scottish Athletics may be impressively run, and has produced a disproportionately high number of world-class athletes in recent years, but to continue this progress without a successful British system would be increasingly hard.

There remains time to redirect the sport on to the correct path. But that time is running out.


The moment Alberto Salazar was banned for doping offences in late 2019, an appeal from the American, who coached Mo Farah to four Olympic gold medals, was inevitable.

It duly came, with Salazar, who has maintained his innocence throughout, taking his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but last week it was revealed  his four-year ban had been upheld, effectively ending the 63-year-old’s coaching career.

It is quite a moment for the athletics world, with Salazar one of the sport’s most successful coaches being not only accused of cheating, but being convicted by multiple sources.

However, there is still something unusual about Salazar’s case.

CAS emphasised that “none of the anti-doping rule violations directly affected athletic competition, and that there was no evidence put before the CAS as to any effect on athletes competing at the elite level within the Oregon Project”.

There is something out of kilter here. It’s hard to ignore the fact that a coach being banned for doping, while insisting his athletes were all clean, is incongruous.

Why go to all the trouble of engaging in illegal activities if it’s not going to be used to aid your athletes?

There is every chance that the suspension of Salazar, plus the folding of the Nike Oregon Project, of which Salazar was head coach, will see the controversy fade into the background. 

But the question remains: if, as has now been proven, Salazar was guilty of doping offences, then who on earth was he doping?

No one seems a somewhat fanciful  answer.