Coronavirus: How the pandemic put things into perspective for Jo Pavey

Five-time Olympian Jo Pavey admits she is struggling to talk about sport during the current coronavirus pandemic when so many people are losing their lives.

The mother-of-two was aiming for a sixth Olympic Games later this year in Tokyo, and admits the postponement to 2021 was a disappointment.

But she said the current focus should be on the tremendous work of all NHS staff and key workers, with talk about the future of sport for another time.

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“It’s going to be different times ahead but the priority is the health and wellbeing of people,” said Pavey, who is supporting the MakeThatCall campaign which was devised by Wasps and taken up by other Premiership Rugby teams.

“Competing in sport is not the highest priority. It always feels difficult talking about sport when you hear about the terrible loss of life. It feels inappropriate.”

Pavey urged people to continue exercising in lockdown, to help with their physical and mental health.

She said: “It is so important. It’s about coming up with new and creative ideas around the home such as star jumps or short shuttle runs.

“It’s really important to keep the kids active.”

The MakeThatCall campaign began as a way of supporting rugby fans during the coronavirus crisis. Players have been calling NHS staff, other key workers and vulnerable people including the elderly. Pavey, an Exeter Chiefs fan, was asked to take part and has been making calls.

The 46-year-old said: “We want to reach out to people struggling in the lockdown, we really need to encourage people to keep in touch.

“It’s really nice to be involved. People’s mental health can suffer if they are not talking. If there is someone alone, please give them a call – it will boost their morale. “

Pressed to discuss her long-distance running future, Pavey said she had been training hard ahead of trials for Tokyo and was still determined to “give it a go” for the rescheduled Olympics in 2021.

But lockdown has meant spending valuable time with her young family.

Her son Jacob and daughter Emily have been camping in the garden of their Devon home and playing lots of board games along with “the occasional bit of Minecraft” plus “struggling with the delights of home-schooling”, said Pavey.

“My daughter has been really creative and my son has come out running with me,” she said.

“There’s been lots of painting. And paint on clothes. It’s meant to come out in the wash – but it doesn’t.” PA

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Former UK Athletics chief Neil Black dies aged 60 as Olympic stars pay tribute

Former UK Athletics performance director Neil Black has died aged 60.

Black took up the UK Athletics performance director role in September 2012 after Charles Van Commenee left his position as Olympic head coach.

He left in October 2019 following Great Britain's disappointing showing in the World Athletics Championships in Doha and amid controversy over his support for banned US coach Alberto Salazar.

Black was a physiotherapist at UK Athletics before moving up ranks to take the top job.

He coached Sir Mo Farah from 2011 to 2017 during which he won four Olympic and six World Championship golds in 5000m and 10,000m.

A British Athletics statement read: "British Athletics is shocked and saddened to confirm the loss of our friend and former colleague Neil Black who passed away suddenly at the weekend.

"Neil loved the sport of athletics and dedicated his life to supporting athletes – as a world class physiotherapist, as head of sport science, and then in recent years as Performance Director for British Athletics.

"Since leaving the role of UKA Performance Director in October 2019, he had been continuing to support a number of athletes and coaches as an advisor.

"Neil will be hugely missed by those that knew and worked with him. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time."

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‘UK Athletics would take hefty blow if Anniversary Games not at London Stadium’

The new head of UK Athletics (UKA) said the organisation’s finances would take “a hefty blow” if the coronavirus crisis meant it could not stage July’s Anniversary Games at London Stadium.

Chief executive Joanna Coates told BBC Sport she is “not prepared to walk away” from talks aimed at resolving a dispute with West Ham United over the venue.

The governing body reconfigures the stadium each summer to stage its flagship event.

But West Ham may still be using the stadium in July if the suspended football season resumes.

The Premier League club are principal tenants and enjoy primary use of a venue owned by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).

“We still want to continue conversations to see whether or not it is possible that we can all have our events,” said Coates, just three weeks into her new role.

“The Premier League haven’t said when their season may restart, so while there’s a hope… we don’t want to walk away.

“It’s been reported a lot of the conversations are between ourselves and West Ham. They’re not actually, they’re between ourselves and… the LLDC because we contract with them.

“So if government is saying that we can have mass gatherings, we still really want to hold that. It is very important for us, it’s important for athletes.

“If we don’t have the Anniversary Games in July that is not good because that’s a big income generator for us.

“We do understand that the Premier League are controlling fixtures so there’s a lot of parties at work here, and we understand that West Ham want to play their remaining fixtures. But we are still having conversations in the background that we want the Anniversary Games to go ahead.”

Coates will start furloughing a quarter of her office staff this week as UKA looks to cut costs, but says there is no immediate threat of bankruptcy.

“From a cash position, we’re in a very strong position at the moment,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s right for us to go to (funding agency) UK Sport and start asking for additional funding.”

Having made her name while in charge of England Netball, Coates has been tasked with leading UKA’s recovery after a sustained period of crisis and controversy.

Last year Richard Bowker left his role as chair following a vote of no-confidence and Zara Hyde-Peters, after being appointed chief executive, did not take up the role following safeguarding allegations about her husband.

Great Britain won just five medals at the World Championships – the lowest since 2005.

“I think this is a sport that is completely out of shape,” said Coates. “It’s fractured, but it’s fixable.

“It’s about reuniting the sport, it’s about connecting the sport of all levels. I think this is about showing strong leadership to bring all that together.

“Anybody who thinks there isn’t a huge amount of change that’s needed here is just not well-informed at all.”

Last month, UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) criticised UKA for not releasing the outcome of its 2015 review into how it handled its relationship with Mo Farah’s disgraced former coach Alberto Salazar, despite “repeated” requests.

“We haven’t handed that over yet,” said Coates.

“That’s not because we don’t want to hand it over, but there are elements of confidentiality in that report that means we cannot.

“There is a process we have to follow to ensure we have the correct levels of confidentiality upheld.

“And at the moment, we don’t have clarity that we can hand that document over. I really want to make it clear this isn’t that we don’t want to.

“But we have been criticised so many times for not following the process. And it’s tripped us up, endlessly. I think that this time we are following process.”

Coates said she was “pretty confident” the review would be handed to Ukad within the next 10 days.

Last month UKA published an independent report which found the governing body took “reasonable” decisions on Salazar, but said its implementation “could have been better”.

Salazar was appointed as a consultant to UKA’s endurance programme in 2013 after he masterminded Farah’s 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics.

Salazar was banned from the sport for four years in October 2019 after being found guilty of doping violations following an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) and a two-year court battle.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Farah, who has never been accused of breaking anti-doping rules.

“We have been investigated, we’ve been reviewed, we’ve been audited like not many other sports have, and all I can do is take the recommendations, and looking forward, make sure there are processes in place where we do not make those mistakes again,” said Coates.

“I hope we can drive this organisation forward now and move it into the future. But always remember that something like this happened.

“We need to challenge the behaviour throughout the entire sport and create a very different culture.

“I would never have taken this role if I thought this was a disaster and there was no way for this sport to go.

“When I started at netball I knew that was an untapped gem that could be taken somewhere else. Athletics is not starting from a low base with the role models that we have.”

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Katarina Johnson-Thompson can still strike gold at Tokyo 2021 says Seb Coe

Seb Coe has backed Britain’s golden girls to overcome the frustration of a postponed Olympics and dazzle at Tokyo 2021.

Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson were crowned world champions only six months ago and had high hopes of surfing that wave of momentum through to Japan this summer.

The coronavirus pandemic put an end to that but Coe, President of World Athletics, believes the duo are made of the right stuff to adapt.

He said: “I hope that both Dina and Kat are at that point in their career where this disruption really doesn’t impact too dramatically on them.

“I don’t know that. But what they have both displayed to me, which is the absolute crucial asset for any athlete that’s got to the level they have, is resilience.

“I don’t minimise the impact this disruption will have. I guess there will be some athletes thinking they’re in the sweet spot of their career and another year may treat them unkindly.

“But I think the resilient athletes are going to manage their way through this.”

With three championships set for 2022, Coe said he would do everything possible to make sure the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was in no way eclipsed by either the rescheduled World Championships in Oregon or the Europeans in Munich.


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World Athletics president Sebastian Coe warns athletes to be ‘very careful’ amid limited testing

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has warned athletes to be “very careful” amid concerns that some will take advantage of a lack of dope testing over the coming months.

The coronavirus pandemic has led many anti-doping agencies, including Usada in the United States and Ukad in Britain, to either reduce or suspend their testing programmes after social distancing measures came into force.

The head of Usada, Travis Tygart, last week warned that the pandemic would cause a “serious setback to global anti-doping programmes, without a doubt”, saying “there’s no question” some athletes would take advantage of the current environment to take performance-enhancing drugs banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

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But Coe insisted other forms of testing will still go on, and insisted the pandemic had not created a “drug-test-free zone”.

“We are still target testing,” Coe said. “We are still testing – what we what we would call priority testing – amid other missions. They’re doing that now. So I urge the athletes to make sure they are registered for testing, and to remember … they still need to fulfil their whereabouts obligations, which is probably a little easier at the moment for most of them than it has been in the past.

“[Authorities] continue of course to monitor athlete profiles through [biological] passports as well. So yes, there is disruption, but I wouldn’t want athletes to think that, certainly from where we’re sitting, this is a drug-test-free zone.”

Coe added: “The other thing to remember is it’s a slightly old fashioned concept to be simply talking about tests in numbers. That was yesterday. It’s intelligence testing, and intelligence around this is really very important, and that continues. So the message to the athletes is just be very careful. This is not, from where we sit, a test-free area.”

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Coronavirus lockdown: Former athlete running marathon in seven-metre garden to raise money for NHS

A former athlete is attempting to run a “stupid” marathon within the confines of his 7m-long back garden in an effort to raise thousands for the NHS.

James Campbell will have to cover 7,000 lengths of the garden to complete the 26.2 miles, and expects it to take around seven hours as he undertakes the challenge on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old former professional javelin thrower, who lives in Cheltenham, said he was going “a little bit crazy” during lockdown.

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“I’m guessing I won’t be able to build any speed up and I’ve got to contend with a patio, stones and grass,” he said. “I am going to measure out a couple of lines of 6m as the actual length of the garden is just over 7m”.

He described the marathon as “literally the most stupid thing I could think of to do” but is determined to complete it, aiming to raise £10,000 in the process. “I will plod up and down for as long as it takes,” he added.

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