UK Athletics was thrown into yet more turmoil on Thursday night when its chair, Chris Clark, resigned after barely seven months in charge on the day the troubled organisation also announced its new chief executive.
Joanna Adams, the highly regarded CEO of England Netball from 2015 to 2019, has been given the substantial task of rebuilding the battered reputation of UK Athletics. Her starting date is yet to be confirmed but she will join a sport that has lost two chairs, two chief executives and its performance director Neil Black in the last 17 months – and this week also became the subject of a major UK Sport review.
That review could well lead to job losses and a cut in lottery funding, and to make matters potentially worse UK Athletics will also soon announce the findings of a separate independent review into its relationship with the US coach Alberto Salazar, who received a four-year ban for doping last year.
There are also questions over the long-term state of the organisation’s finances, with the Guardian revealing on Wednesday that the BBC was willing to pay only a fraction of the £3m-a-year fee it currently pays the organisation for live coverage.
Adams will become the organisation’s first full-time chief executive since Niels de Vos left in 2018. The post was originally due to be filled by Zara Hyde Peters in December but she stepped down before starting after questions were raised over whether she allowed her husband to coach at a local athletics club after he had an “inappropriate relationship” with a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
Adams is credited with professionalising netball by bringing in major sponsors and television agreements while growing grassroots participation during her 10 years in the sport – which included hosting the most successful World Cup in the sport’s history in 2019.
After leaving England Netball last August she became the first chief commercial officer at the London Legacy Development Corporation, the organisation responsible for the regeneration of east London and delivering legacy after the London 2012 Olympics.
When Adams starts her new role there will be a game of musical chairs at UK Athletics with Clark – who took over from Richard Bowker last year – stepping down as chair to take on the development of a commercial plan for track and field. Nic Coward, who took over as acting chief executive only last month, will become chair for the rest of 2020.
“The role of chair for UKA clearly now requires a huge time commitment during this crucial period,” said Clark, who was said by insiders to be surprised that a job that was supposed to take up five days a month was consuming far more of his time. “My other commitments to regulated businesses and public sector organisations have significantly increased since commencing the role and I have to concede that I cannot give it the time commitment it deserves right now.
“However, I am delighted to have the opportunity to continue working with UK Athletics on the commercial strategy and Joanna’s appointment and her track record of success in not only sports governance but also commercial, marketing and competition structures means we have excellent leadership to take the sport in a positive future direction.”
Clark added: “Nic has already made a very positive impact and retaining his expertise for this transition period was an important consideration when the board debated the changes we needed to make. The focus now has to be the future and how we will apply the learnings and best practice from the ongoing reviews and ensure the sport has a hugely successful future.”