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UK Sport: Less than half of elite athletes believe there are consequences to inappropriate behaviour

A new report from UK Sport has revealed that only 49 per cent of British Olympic and Paralympic Athletes believe there are consequences to inappropriate behaviour in the world-class programme.

The worrying data from the report comes as the spotlight continues to be shone over a number of complaints and revelations about the treatment of athletes across the UK.

Of the 795 athletes surveyed, just under half responded that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that there are consequences to inappropriate behaviour. The survey was carried out by the Culture Health Check in 2019.

31 per cent agreed or strongly disagreed however, compared to 26 per cent of staff. Altogether, 53 per cent of the respondents stated that there were consequences, which signalled a rise of 44 per cent from 2018.

UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger spoke to BBC Sport about the inappropriate behaviour that British athletes feel that they are suffering from.

“Whether it's the individuals who have acted wrongly or the culture and environment, all of these things can be changed, all of those things can be affected, and all of those things can be improved.

"At the moment we're still hearing athletes having bad experiences and walking away, we still have work to do.

"It's a big ambition but I would love to see every athlete walk away and say I might not have achieved everything I wanted to, but it was a great time I had. We need to put a lot of things right to ensure we get to that place.

"There will be some examples in those numbers where athletes will genuinely feel they didn't have a fair hearing... and that is somewhere where we do need to do some work."

The survey also brought to light how 10 per cent of respondents had experienced and/or witnessed inappropriate behaviour, which is down from 24 per cent in 2018. Four in five athletes felt that there are measures in place to support mental health and wellbeing and that 76 per cent of sports have “clearly identifiable strengths in culture.”

Grainger also confirmed that UK Sport would be prepared to cut funding to governing bodies if they failed to improve athlete welfare.

When asked, Grainger said: “Yes we would, and we've been quite open about that.

"It's not a sanction we jump to quickly mainly because when you withdraw funding it has very long-term consequences and often hurts the very people you want to protect - athletes first and foremost.

"It's not something we do lightly, however there may well be situations where we have gone through these issues of culture and welfare, and where they have not been accepting and they're not willing to change then yes, we'll withdraw.

"It's public money and it needs to be looked after well and wisely and we wouldn't invest in a body that didn't have the highest ethical standards.”

Sally Munday, the chief executive of UK Sport added: "We remain absolutely committed to a high-performance system which places the wellbeing of our athletes at its core.

"I also believe the vast majority of people in high-performance sport are doing the right thing, but we are very clear that there is no room in sport for anyone who doesn't want to behave to the highest standards of ethics and integrity.

"Culture takes time to evolve but the overwhelming majority of national governing bodies share UK Sport's view. A positive organisational culture is absolutely essential to the continued success of our athletes and those who support them, both in competition and as role models in society."

Author: Jake Wilkin