UK Athletics will manage to stay afloat, says Beattie – AW

    Despite posting huge losses of £3.7 million, chair Ian Beattie insists the governing body can navigate its way through choppy financial waters

    The numbers could barely be more alarming. The UK Athletics annual accounts which are set to be released show a loss of £3.7 million for the financial year up to the end of March. It makes for the most sobering of reading and lays bare the monetary mountain the governing body is having to climb. 

    In a variety of ways, the staging of events during the last financial year alone resulted in a loss of almost £2m. Even into this financial year, the London Diamond League – an unqualified success which saw the Olympic stadium full and a much-needed feelgood factor returning to the sport on British shores – lost a significant six-figure sum, despite receiving £150,000 in support from UK Sport. 

    With no title sponsor or broadcast income to combat those issues, UKA chair Ian Beattie says: “I’m not underestimating these numbers at all, and it’s clearly a tough time.”

    However, he sees light amid the financial gloom. Bankruptcy, he says, will be avoided thanks to a strengthening cash position which, at the end of March, had improved by £1.2million compared to the previous year. In fact, at that point in the year, the accounts show UKA to have cash of £6.5million in the bank – thanks to the extended kit sponsorship deal with Nike, who made a “significant cash payment”. 

    Due to accounting principles, UKA are not able to take that into the profit and loss account but it, ultimately, makes the difference in terms of remaining solvent. 

    “Businesses survive because they’ve got cash and fail when they run out of cash, so getting that injection was absolutely crucial,” says Beattie. “It also gives us the time to restructure the business. With the projections showing that we’re not going to run out of cash in the foreseeable future, we as a board can have confidence that the organisation will continue.”

    Steps taken in the interim, such as reducing staff, moving out of the offices at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham and the responsibility for coaching and officiating qualifications being transferred to each of the home country federations, have brought the annual bills down by £1.3million. Beattie adds that UKA are projecting a loss of £1.6m for this year, £400,000 for next year before then breaking even in 2025/2026.

    Events will be done differently, too. Formal announcements are expected in the new year but a collaboration between UKA, London Marathon Events and the Great Run Company is in the works with the aim of not only reducing costs, but widening opportunities not just when it comes to staging events but also in terms of potential commercial partnerships thanks to the influence those companies exert.

    “We were down at this year’s Great North Run the night before, and just the people that are there… we should be sitting at that table so the whole sport is joined up and is influential,” says Beattie. “We want to raise the profile of athletics and its influence and I think we’ll find it easier through the structure as well.”

    He is not about to pretend that turning the ship around will be a quick process. In his day job as Chief Operating Officer of the legal firm Lindsays, Beattie has experience of just how long it can take before the benefits of remodelling a business truly start to be felt. To use an athletics analogy, this current stage is the less than glamorous equivalent of laying down the base mileage. There are parallels to be drawn, too, with Seb Coe’s reign as World Athletics president, which began with countless fires to be put out before the business of starting to reshape the sport could truly begin. 

    “We’re in a better place with a clearer plan about the direction we’re going in compared with 12 months ago,” says Beattie. “Organisations can’t continue to deliver £3.7m losses and we know that. Running any organisation, you’ve always got hard decisions to make and I think the way these decisions become easier is by having clarity to them.

    “It’s painful whenever people are losing their jobs and that does mean there’s less we can do because we just don’t have the same resource, and I think we have to accept that. But it’s important to get the organisation working to that clear plan and trying to do well the things that we are responsible for.”

    Beattie concedes that funding is going to be an ongoing issue. The fight to justify the money from UK Sport, which sustains the World Class Programme, never stops, while being able to pay for development opportunities outside of that will be increasingly difficult.

    As covered in the October issue of AW, the British teams for the recent 50km and 24-hour World Championships paid their way via crowdfunding – a model which Beattie admits is unsustainable and there are ongoing discussions and conversations about addressing that issue going forward. “We need to find a better model,” he says. 

    The ‘to do’ list facing Beattie and UKA chief executive Jack Buckner is a lengthy one. With Olympic year looming there has been turbulence, too, with the recent departure of performance director Stephen Maguire, the man who oversaw the team’s best performance at a World Championships since 1993. Earlier this year, Buckner admitted to having “sleepless nights” about the state of the UKA finances but Beattie insists those fears have now been allayed to some extent.

    “We’re not having sleepless nights,” he says. “We know where we’re going. We know it’s tough. Everybody’s working very hard to keep us resourced, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

    He adds: “My main message is to ask the sport to work together. The sport, clearly for a number of years, has not been in a particularly happy place and I don’t think that helps our perception with sponsors, it doesn’t help our perception with UK Sport. There have been various reasons for that but that’s all in the past.

    “There are always going to be people with different views and reasons for wanting change but I think, equally, we’re all wanting to see our athletes perform the best they can at the top level and to support them as best we can. I think the more we can pull together, work as a sport and lobby for that, show the good that the sport does, the more we will see the benefits.” 

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