Liz Nicholl

Week 58 (25 - 31 October 2014)

There is little that is more risky in sports politics than seizing the news agenda to question your own practices.

UK Sport – the Government-accountable agency responsible for promoting sport across the UK – is currently in rude health in terms of its wider public perception in Britain. Some corners of the British sports industry have questioned its medals-focused approach but, put simply, the organisation has been fundamental to Team GB's upward arc of success at recent Olympic and Paralympic Games – which the whole nation has been wilfully swept up by over the past few years.

But that success clearly has not changed the agency's want for improvement.

This week, UK Sport Chief Executive, Liz Nicholl, sat down in front of BBC cameras with new sports editor Dan Roan for a frank discussion about the agency's operations going forward.

What Nicholl announced, and her tone of delivery, conveyed an agency that does not feel it has got everything right in the past and that wants to listen and learn.

For sports like basketball, synchronised swimming, water polo and weightlifting – which all had their Olympic funding withdrawn in February this year – it would have been a welcome message.

In her interview, Nicholl revealed that UK Sport will soon roll out a public consultation for the first time, saying:

"The questions that we need to ask now, of the nation, of the Government, of our partners, are: 'What is it that they want UK Sport to be focused on? What is it they want UK Sport to deliver?'

"We will review what we hear from the consultation, we will refine our thinking and agree a direction of travel in February.

"We really do want to listen. We are not arrogant enough to think that we know how to do everything best."

With a nod to basketball, Nicholl continued:

"We're hearing quite a few comments from team sports, particularly basketball, sports that are not funded by us in this cycle because they are more than eight years away from developing medal potential.

"And so, the questions we will be asking are: 'Should we dig deeper? Should we extend our remit?' I think we are confident that we could do that this time round. We have the capacity to do it, the knowledge and the ability to be able to do that."

With this interview, which can be viewed here, Nicholl has set out her agency's stall to be more inclusive and more collaborative with British sport's stakeholders. The UK media will undoubtedly measure her and the success of UK Sport's public consultation against her words, and failure to make it such could mean a public chastising by the media.

But Nicholl's willingness to put her head above the parapet shows an agency which believes in itself and is determined to stay accountable for its actions to the British public. It's too early to say if this is a best practice model but it's certainly a praiseworthy move.

Photo: UK Sport