July 26, 2005
Coach party refused a ticket to ride
By David Powell
MARK Lewis-Francis and Christian Malcolm were named yesterday in the Great Britain team for the World Championships in Helsinki and, as members of the 4 x 100 metres relay squad, they are two of a mere handful with any prospect of returning with a medal. But they will go to Finland without their personal coaches, who feel aggrieved that they will be at home when, they say, their athletes need them.
Steve Platt and Jock Anderson, the respective longstanding trainers to Lewis-Francis and Malcolm, point to a coaching crisis that, they have said, leaves them funding British athletics out of their pensions. They have been invited to attend the pre-championships team training camp in Turku but have been told that, if they want to move with the squad to Helsinki, they must fund it themselves.
“I do not see why I should go there (to Turku) and then come back here to watch it on the telly,” Anderson, a 69-year-old retired plumber who has spent 30 years in coaching, said. “I have taken Christian to world and Olympic finals, then they tell you that you cannot coach. It has been eating away at me, the way that they (UK Athletics) treat you. I have been coaching Christian since he was 14.”
As well as for the relay, Malcolm, a former world junior 100 and 200 metres champion, was named yesterday for the 200 metres, having won the Britain trial in Manchester two weeks ago. “Christian does not want to say much about it because he does not want to get into an argument,” Anderson said. “They want us to go to the holding camp, but we cannot go to the worlds. They say there is no money.”
Anderson said that it is hitting him hard since UKA removed Malcolm from its high-flyer programme after the Olympic Games in Athens last year, when he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 200 metres having spent five days in hospital with kidney trouble. This season, though, he was Britain’s only individual winner in the men’s European Cup. “We are not getting any expenses to go training — nothing. They have stopped everything,” Anderson said.
Platt said that he understood that UKA could not take every personal coach but added: “Some people need more support than others.” Lewis-Francis, at 22, lacks the maturity of some team colleagues and, to Platt’s mind, he is in the the most testing event, the 100 metres. To remove him from the high-flyer programme because he did not make the Olympic final was, Platt said, shortsighted.
“Mark is not happy about it,” Platt said of him not going. “For myself, I am not bothered, but the main thing is for me to be there when Mark needs me. Out of all the athletics events, reaching the 100 metres final is probably the hardest. I do not see how you can compare it with reaching some of the other finals.”
Platt took early retirement 18 months ago, at 55, to coach Lewis-Francis full time. “It does not affect Mark’s funding, but it affects me because I cannot claim for any expenses — not for travel to training or to meetings,” Platt said. “I feel that I am funding UK Athletics at the moment with my pension.
“Things have got to change at the end of this year because I am not prepared to do it any more.” Which, Platt believes, may be what the UKA hierarchy wants. “They want all the potential under one umbrella of the high-performance centres and that is going to cut out all the personal coaches,” Platt said.
“Long term, where is that leading to? Most of the athletes come from the clubs. If these coaches see that, as soon as their athletes get to a certain level, they are going to be snapped up by the high-performance centres, a lot are going to say, ‘I am wasting my time.’ ”
Dave Collins, the UKA performance director, said that the number of athletes on the high-flyer programme had been reduced this year to “ten or 12”, adding that the scheme would be dispensed with at the end of the year and replaced with what he described as “a formal structure to increase the amount of recognition and resource that goes to coaches”.
It would be based, Collins said, “on supporting the individual coaches of high-performing athletes”. He added that he had been forced to cut back on the number of personal coaches going to Helsinki because of the smaller size of the team.
“A smaller team gives us less accreditations and less capacity to get people in,” Collins said. “The decisions on who we could take were driven by performance reasons.”