Scottish Athletics leads bid to oust chair of UK Athletics

Scottish Athletics will formally lead calls for the resignation of UK Athletics chair Richard Bowker today amid what is expected to be a concerted effort to terminate the tenure of the former Virgin Rail boss after just 18 months in the post.

UK Athletics chair Richard Bowker flanked by athletes Katarina Johnson-Thompson, right, and Marie-Josée Ta Lou, left. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images for IAAF

The move is set to have the unanimous backing of the home nations at a meeting of UKA’s Members Council in Birmingham, where what equates to a motion of no-confidence in the businessman’s leadership is on the agenda.

The associations have been riled by proposals to revamp the structure of the sport by effectively absorbing England Athletics into the British 
governing body in a bid to achieve cost savings. The plan sparked a ferocious political wrangle, with Wales and Northern Ireland also signalling their support for calls to remove Bowker.

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The Members Council, which will initially hold its AGM ahead of the debate, has 12 constituents overseen by its president – the Olympic sprint relay gold medallist Jason 
Gardener – with further representatives aligned to various parts of the sport.

Although Bowker is technically accountable to UKA’s board, the Members Council effectively holds overall governance power and could enforce his removal.

Scottish Athletics chair Ian Beattie said: “We asked Jason
Gardner, as president, to get the view of the Members Council about Richard continuing in the role. We need to find out where we stand.

“All the discussions so far have been between UKA and the home countries but not with the rest of the council.

“Now we’ll get those views. If the other eight say to the home countries ‘you’ve got this wrong’, we’ll have to find a way to work it out. But I’d be surprised if that is the case. And, if the majority agree the trust has been lost, it will be up to UKA’s board or Richard to make the next move.”

It seems probable that Bowker will simply find himself in an untenable position. England Athletics were emboldened enough yesterday to insist that they will not tolerate anything resembling a merger, despite reported pressure from Sport England to back the suggested reforms.

An England Athletics representative said: “Our belief is that we should put the development of all home country member clubs and affiliated athletes across the UK at the heart of the decision-making process. This has been shared with the UKA Board.”

Although Athletics Northern Ireland officials are understood to fear a potential reprisal in the form of removing the funding they receive from UKA, they will back Scotland’s plea for change and there seems little chance of a last-minute change of heart.

According to one critic, Bowker, who confessed to a lack of prior knowledge of athletics when he succeeded Ed Warner in his role, has failed to “win friends or influence people”.

Beattie added: “The approach Richard has used to try to make changes has made changes less likely. There’s been too much of threats, or saying ‘this has to happen by this time’. If UK Athletics had turned around and said ‘we’re going to merge Scottish Athletics with ourselves’, we’d have laughed at them. It’s up to the members, the same as it is in England.”

Should Bowker go, it would leave UKA with a power vacuum at its head with the recruitment process still at an early stage for a new chief executive following the resignation of Niels de Vos three months ago.