Thoughts of Jack Buckner

In discussing the launch of Athletic Ventures, a new strategic partnership with the Great Run Company and London Marathon Events to deliver significant sports events in the UK, UK CEO Jack Buckner expressed his delight at the two organizations’ expertise.  He explained that the danger for the governing body was to try to do everything – sort out the finances, the governance, the reputation of the sport, the performance of the athletes, events, and commercials. He added: “Working with London Marathon Events and Great Run Company, I believe we can reinvent the sport, and that will give me a bit more time to focus on helping the athletes get the best out of themselves and running the sport. So, I’m hugely excited about this partnership.  Track and field athletics is, after football [OK soccer, Larry], the biggest global sport in the world, and it’s about time we started realizing that potential, and I believe working with them, we’re going to start doing that”.

He explained further how he felt it would help UKA: “It’s a strategic move, and I think it’s the right move for governing bodies to do. We can’t do everything.  My main job is to improve the sport’s reputation and the athletes’ performance. Having these partners on board, I can sit back and let them lead it because they’re the experts in this area, so I think it’s the right move. We’re going to focus on cost and focus on revenue. So I don’t want it to feel like this is a short term fix. It’s a strategic move for the organization, and if you talk to my chairman, Ian Beattie, he’ll tell you this was a core recommendation he made when he started because this was the right thing to do. So it’s brilliant to have done it, but it’s not a short-term fix. It’s a strategic move for the future of the sport”.

Jack Buckner, CEO of British Athletics, photo by Andrew Baker for British Athletics

He was asked one very strange question: Was it true that the finances were so tight that the World Relays team had to buy their own lunches? He replied, “I’m pretty sure we’re paying for lunches at the World Relays.” Note to self: Tell GB athletes they do not, after all, need to bring sandwiches to the Bahamas.

This then led to some bigger-picture comments on the beleaguered UKA finances.  He said: “The underlying UKA financial position is improving due to the work we’ve done so that we’re going to be able to point to a sustainable business model, including not relying on any additional income from this partnership. I’m working with organizations who will keep checking in on that because they want to be part of a successful governing body. Also, this summer, we’re well ahead on ticket sales for the Diamond League. So we’re projecting way ahead of where we were this time last year. We’ve got a great platform on the BBC. This is going to add more profiles to the event. The business is stabilizing, and this will add the momentum to take us forward”.

One final question was about the decision to select CJ Ujah for the World Relays, an athlete whose failed drug test* had deprived the GB men’s 4 by 100 of an Olympic medal.  The questioner referred to Buckner’s comment about his job involving enhancing the sport’s reputation, which did not seem to sit comfortably with selecting an athlete who had failed a drug test.  Here, I felt, Jack was at his least impressive, saying several times how difficult it was before explaining: “The bottom line though is if CJ Ujah qualifies for the Olympic Games as an individual, he’s in the relay squad, and we have to plan for every eventuality.” True in the sense that World Athletics includes all individual 100m runners in their list of relay squad runners, but not accurate in the sense that you don’t have to involve a particular athlete in the relay squad.  Jack actually repeated three times in his answer the point that World Athletics rules mean that he is included in the relay squad. He added that Darren Campbell, who was in charge of relays, had consulted all concerned.

It was not a satisfactory answer because his argument was not true and because he did not answer the point about reputational damage.

*He was banned for 22 months after he tested positive for two banned substances at the Tokyo Olympics but cleared of intentionally taking prohibited drugs by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), with the AIU and WADA ruling that his anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was not intentional. It was instead a result of his ingestion of a contaminated supplement.