How it started
In 2006, the former president of International Triathlon Union (ITU), Les McDonald, came up to me, grabbed me by the shoulder and said: ‘Look, you’re a mouthy one. We need athletes’ representatives who have got things to say’.
It was just before the ITU election and that’s how I got into it. That evolved with the ITU constitution progressing from having just one athletes’ rep to two – a female and a male – and then into a committee. I’ve been doing this now for the last 10 years, on and off.
I haven’t always been chairperson, but I’ve always been involved. Now my role is to engage as many of the younger triathletes – not only active ones but those who have recently retired too – so we’ve got a bigger pool of athletes who are involved in more than simply providing feedback, but in governance and liaison roles to other athletes’ committees.
Putting athletes first
The major thing we do is keep an eye on the budget – ensuring that we utilise any opportunity to increase prize money or athletes’ benefits, such as covering the costs of hotels and transport. We keep an eye on that to make sure budget allocations are coming our way.
Away from budgeting, we’re looking at support services, from education and careers advice to the psychological aspect of stopping sport through injury or even eating disorders that come from competing in endurance sports.
We now also have a guest seat at every ITU Executive Board meeting, where we can invite an athlete – either from the committee or outside the committee – to experience an executive board meeting for themselves, to learn a little bit more about governance. That’s a great result in terms of helping athletes get involved in the political side of things, which only increases our influence.
Encouraging future athlete leaders
In the past, getting all of the members to contribute to the committee was challenging. But we’re talking about athletes who don’t necessarily have experience of governance, so they lack confidence in knowing how to engage with the committee in order to get the building blocks in place.
I’ve helped steer the other members, encouraging them to follow their own interests. Once they’ve started getting involved, they’re up and running. But with active athletes, you have to be very aware that they’ve only got a small portion of not just time, but energy available.
Simply grabbing people and sitting them down builds momentum. In the first meeting people can be hesitant; the second they’re a little more proactive; and now they’re suggesting really great ideas and doing things off their own back.
I can really feel that I can step back and allows others’ to flourish. This is a good group of younger triathletes who are eventually going to take over our committee.
Passing the baton
The next election is at the end of 2019 and, by then, I want a robust and well-attended procedure in place for a truly democratic, representative vote. It’s challenging to find the right combination between a physical election at a grand final, where you’re excluding athletes who haven’t qualified for that race, or an electronic system where it can be difficult to get people to go online and vote – but we will try to find a formula.
I hope to leave a full, active ITU Athletes Committee with motivated individuals who understand governance. It would be a really great to see a few even attend a governance course. I completed one last year, and it was really useful. Maybe a couple more could do that, so, in that respect, I’m looking to pass on the baton.
I am pushing to set up an alumni network, too. I’d like to get the groundwork done on that and an idea of where funding could come from because, as an athletes’ committee, we’re volunteers – so staff support is essential.
If I can step down when the structure for that network has been set up, and know that people are motivated and have the skills to take over the committee, that would be ideal.