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Denise Lewis exit is disappointing says UK Athletics: ‘This sport desperately needs help’

Denise Lewis with Gabby Logan during the BBC's coverage of the World Indoor Championships/Denise Lewis exit is disappointing says UK Athletics: 'This sport desperately needs help'
Denise Lewis with Gabby Logan during the BBC's coverage of the World Indoor Championships - BBC

UK Athletics has said it is disappointed at Dame Denise Lewis’s sudden departure as the federation’s president at a time when the sport “desperately needs help”.

Lewis announced last month she was “temporarily” relinquishing the position following questions over whether she could combine that role with working as a BBC pundit.

The former Olympic heptathlon champion was only elected in December and, speaking for the first time about the situation, UKA chief executive Jack Buckner said: “We are having a tough time in Olympic sport. When someone like Denise puts her hand up to support us, that’s absolutely brilliant. So I’m disappointed. We desperately need help. This sport desperately needs help – it’s a fractured sport.”

Although largely ceremonial, the president’s remit involves chairing the UKA members’ board, prompting discussions over whether Lewis could combine a BBC broadcast role that might involve criticising athletes, coaches and administrators with holding such a significant position at the national federation.

Lewis explained the decision in reference “to a hectic summer ahead” while Buckner stressed the “symbolic” nature of the president’s position.

“It’s an honorary role – she’s not involved in selection processes,” he said. “She’s not anywhere near that. So, having her, and anything she brings, to be on our team I think is brilliant.”

Manchester to replace Birmingham for Olympic trials

The governing body has been hit by a financial crisis as well as huge internal unrest over recent years and British athletes have been in limbo over whether their Olympic trials will be staged at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium following the council’s cash crisis.

Manchester is now set to stage the event, with Buckner adamant he cannot take any financial risks.

The trials are scheduled for June 29-30 ahead of the Diamond League meeting on the eve of the Olympics, when some of the world’s best athletes will compete at the London Stadium.

The Alexander Stadium will stage the 2026 European Championships and asked why there had been no confirmation for the trials this summer, Buckner said: “The council went bankrupt and the commissioners only have to deliver statutory services. That means every single item of non-statutory expenditure has to go to the commissioners. Whether we like it or not, the Alexander Stadium is not a statutory service for Birmingham City Council.”

Buckner had hoped that the event would be staged in Birmingham. “My main job has been to get the organisation [UKA] solvent and to have a sustainable future,” he said. “I’ve made a third of the organisation redundant outside of performance. I’ve cut people’s pensions. I’m not going to let the organisation go under for a risky decision. I have to make the best financial decision.”

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said that they were working “closely” with UKA.

A UKA spokesperson said: “There’s no issue over taking time to do this properly, ensuring the decision we make is right for athletes and spectators, and we are aiming to confirm the venue later this month.”

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