Sports

Gemili calls on athletes to use their voices to get track & field out of a hole


Adam Gemili has urged athletes to make their voices heard to get track and field out of the hole it is in.

This is the worst of times for athletics in the UK with the only event scheduled being this week’s British Championships; two days of competition, behind closed doors, which has failed to attract any of the big hitters.

Sir Mo Farah and Katarina Johnson-Thompson will instead compete at a Diamond League meet in Brussels.

‘Super Saturday’ seems a lifetime ago, let alone the halcyon days when the nation would stop to watch Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and their contemporaries.

Christian Malcolm in ITV show Eternal Glory
Christian Malcolm will be named as British Athletics’ new head coach

“The sport needs headlines,” Daley Thompson admitted. “It needs a great shop window – otherwise the kids will never get interested.”

Right now it has neither and Gemili, the first Briton to clock sub-10 seconds for 100 metres and sub-20 for 200, says athletes need to “speak up and speak out” to effect change.

“The power of the athlete voice has never been stronger,” he said. “Look how effective it has been in highlighting racial and social inequalities.

Happier times: Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, CJ Ujah, Gemili and Danny Talbot celebrate world sprint relay gold in 2017

“Yet in athletics I don’t think we’ve really had athlete leadership. Athletes have always been bottom of the pecking order behind agents, meet directors, people running the sport.

“Athletes don’t get consulted, they’re not asked for their opinions. Take the change to the Diamond League format (four events have been axed). I wasn’t asked, I don’t know anyone who was.

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“Athletics’ stock is pretty low, the sport needs to be changed and I think it’s our responsibility to lead that.”

Seb Coe of Great Britain leads team mates Steve Cram and Steve Ovett in the final of the 1500 metres at the 1980 Olympic Games
Athletics has lost its mass appeal since Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram battled it out for global supremacy in the 1980s

Gemili still has the smile with which he dazzled the world as a teenager at the 2012 London Olympics.

He has won European and world gold medals and is locked on a mission to avenge his Rio Olympic near miss in Tokyo next summer.

But at the age of 26 he recognises his sport needs a makeover and has decided to do something about it.

A young Gemili (2nd right) in relay action at he London 2012 Olympics

He fronted a campaign threatening legal action against the British Olympic Association which brought greater freedom for stars to promote their sponsors during Games time.

He helped devise a Team GB policy of not punishing athletes that use next summer’s Olympics as a platform to protest against racial injustice.

He put himself forward to raise awareness for the Alzheimer’s Society in tribute to his grandmother’s dementia battle.

Gemili has promised himself he will finally win an Olympic medal in Tokyo next summer

And he joined the board of the new Athletics Association, an athletes’ union formed in response to changes to the Diamond League programme.

“We’re trying to bring about real change,” he said. “We’re speaking out for those who don’t have the power, the platform, the voice.”

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Gemili is encouraged that new British Athletics boss Jo Coates has already sought the views of athletes as “we’ve never been asked before”.

UKA chief executive Joanna Coates

But the stark reality is that the domestic calendar remains blank and Britain’s best are having to jet around Europe in search of competition.

One ray of hope going forward is that Christian Malcolm is to become the first black head coach of British Athletics .

The appointment of the Welsh-born world and European medalist, currently employed as head of high performance and coaching at Athletics Australia, is expected to be confirmed in the next 24 hours.

Christian Malcolm
The “time is right” for Malcolm, says Darren Campbell

Malcolm had received powerful backing from British sprint great Darren Campbell who told Mirror Sport that the “time is right” for his former team mate to get a senior position.

The 41-year-old’s selection follows Coates’ vow to address the lack of black administrators in the sport.

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