24 02 2013


I have now written about the Olympic Legacy on a number of occasions; most frequently questioning the lack of competent strategy in fulfilling the promise our politicians made to us and to the world in 2005; that the Games would bring an increase in sporting participation.

Nearly eight years later, we still await any strategy worthy of the name and, for some sports, time is running out.

I have a lot to be thankful to the sport of athletics for. As a former athlete I spent many enjoyable years training for and competing in the sport. Later I became a coach and was fortunate to work with many talented athletes. I have made friendships which have endured the years and the miles, I have seen more of the world than I could ever have dreamed of and I learned much about myself as a person. Athletics gave me a base from which I worked in a number of other sports with many fantastic individuals and great teams. Other than my parents, the sport of track and field athletics contributed more to my being the person I am today than anything else. I am grateful, extremely grateful.

Why do I share this with you?

Because athletics in the UK is in serious trouble. Forget that ‘Super Saturday’ of last summer; forget the success of Mo and Jessica and the others. That is the glossy picture that fronts a sport in decline.

The official figures paint a picture far rosier than reality. Sport England’s annual Active People Survey reports 2.1 million adults regularly (once per week) taking part in athletics. That is more than 1 in every 20 people but few other than politicians and those in sport whose jobs depend on these figures believe them anymore. Grass roots athletics certainly doesn’t. Even when you allow for the fact that Sport England includes joggers as athletes the figures are barely credible.

But what about the sport the public think of as athletics? What of the sport of Mo and Jessica and the others? What of track and field athletics?

In 2011 the Association of British Athletic Clubs asked world-renowned athletics statistician Rob Whittingham to take an independent look at track and field participation focusing on the key adult competition age of 20 to 34. His findings were that fewer than 2000 people regularly participated in track and field athletics. That is 0.1% of people participating in what the public might term ‘real’ athletics compared to Sport England’s figure for their definition of ‘athletics’.

As a way of picturing 2000 people, let me put it this way; it is insufficient numbers to field even 182 football or cricket teams (that’s fewer than four per English county) and enough for only 133 rugby union teams (fewer than three per English county).

Since 2011 athletics plight has continued. Local, national and international facilities have come under threat of closure from Mansfield to Gateshead and from Cwmbran to Don Valley in Sheffield. Britain’s most successful ever athletics club, Belgrave Harriers, has had to withdraw from the British League because of a shortage of volunteers. For the uninitiated, Belgrave has been athletics equivalent of Manchester United having won 11 National titles in The League’s 43 year history. Now their top flight aspirations are over.

In the absence of any competent strategy from DCMS, Sport England or England Athletics, Belgrave Harriers are now going it alone and have developed a strategy which will develop new, non-funding reliant income streams which, given time, can be reinvested in the club to support proper development. Where once they led on the track, perhaps Belgrave Harriers are now leading in new directions which will benefit a sport in desperate need of leadership if it is to save itself.

This is not the sport of Super Saturday, this is a sport in transition from major to minor. The sport of my youth, the sport which gave me so much and which has the potential to give much to others has become a minority sport. Strip out the joggers and not much of a sport remains.

Despite the promises of 2005 we have still to see an integrated strategy for the development of sport in this country, one which recognises the full sports development continuum. There has been plenty of talk and lots of initiatives and more than a few bad strategies, but there has been little of quality and now athletics is paying the price.

If the Olympic Legacy is to mean something, if politician’s promise to the people of the UK and of the rest of the world is not to ring hollow that must change and change quickly. Competent, quality strategy is required now, for the bell is ringing for athletics’ last lap.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, February 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


8 01 2013

Clough Taylor LogoOver the years I have committed to allocating 20% of my working hours to the design, development and running of charity events. At the end of last year, I launched a new social enterprise, People’s Events, with the idea that my 20% commitment will go further by chairing this new organisation than by acting as an individual.

People’s Events’ first event will mark the lives of two great men at one of the East Midlands’ most iconic venues and in support of some very worthy causes. I’d like to use my first blog of 2013 to share a little about the Clough Taylor People’s Run with you.

As its title suggests, the Clough Taylor People’s Run pays tribute to two remarkable men, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. The successes of Clough and Taylor are now writ large in the pages of legend and although they are no longer with us, they are both remembered with affection by fans of all football clubs, not just the ones they managed.

Taking place on Sunday 10th March at the famous Donington Park motor racing circuit, the event will feature a 10km for over 13s and a 1km fun run for under 13s. Running is not compulsory; walkers are just as welcome. The important thing is to mark two great lives by supporting some great charities.

There are four official charities (although you can support whatever charity you want once you have entered). These are:

  • ·         CP Sport who help people with cerebral palsy fulfil their potential through sport
  • ·         Hope Against Cancer who fund vital cancer research programmes in the East Midlands
  • ·         Muscular Dystrophy Campaign who are dedicated to beating muscle wasting conditions and improving the lives of those affected by them
  • ·         Nottingham Hospitals Charity towards Pulmonary Fibrosis Research who are dedicated to researching and ultimately defeating Pulmonary Fibrosis

The Clough Taylor People’s Run is open to all and entering couldn’t be easier. Simply visit the event website, click on Event Entry and follow the instructions. There is even a downloadable entry form for those who prefer entering by post.

The entry fee of £20.00 (£10.00 for the 1km fun run) includes a T-shirt which you select your choice of colour for – Forest Red, Rams White or Neutral Blue. The challenge is for fans of the two clubs Brian Clough and Peter Taylor enjoyed their greatest successes with (Derby County and Nottingham Forest) to make their colour the predominant colour on the day! All finishers will also receive a commemorative medal.

Why not join us on 10th March and run (or walk) for Brian, for Peter, for Forest, for the Rams or simply for yourself but most importantly – for charity.

Don’t forget to spread the word!

The Clough Taylor People’s Run is endorsed by the families of both Brian Clough and Peter Taylor and supported by Derby County and Nottingham Forest football clubs. The event is sponsored by Donington Park, Quiet Storm, BCS Agency and (of course) Cowan Global. Limited sponsorship opportunities are still available, contact me for details. Follow the Clough Taylor People’s Run on Twitter and on Facebook.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2013

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


9 12 2012

Active_People_logo_fullI have visited the sorry tale of the absent Olympic sports participation legacy on numerous occasions over the last couple of years. Absent or bad strategy, undelivered promises and political finger crossing have been the key elements of the tale to date, to which we can now add barely believable data…..

Last week (December 6th) Sport England released the latest set of ‘Active People’ statistics which, somewhat surprisingly, were reported by the media without question. Yet, to anyone taking even a passing glance the figures are barely credible. It would appear that having been unable to generate the increase in sporting participation promised by our politicians when winning the London Games bid, the solution has been to simply massage the data to match the promise.

Officially 750,000 more people over the age of 16 are taking part in sport at least once a week compared to 12 months ago. Surely this is good news? Well, yes, it would be if it were believable.

The headline figure offered by Sport England’s expensive Active People survey is 15.5 million over 16s regularly (once per week) taking part in sport.

Put that figure another way and it tells us that Sport England want us to believe that 1 in 3 over 16s in England regularly participate in sport. Seriously? Take a look around you – friends, work colleagues, family, neighbours – one in every three are playing sport regularly, that is what we are being asked to believe.

I can only speak for myself and, for me, that claim beggars belief. That the media accept it unquestioningly astonishes me. That the politicians who fund this expensive survey believe it continues to offer value for money (if it ever did) astounds me.

One in three. Take another look around you. Not one in three under 30s or under 40s, but 33% of all over 16s in England.

It appears the solution for successive governments poor sports development strategy has been introduced. Just make the figures up to fit the promise. And why not, it appears no one cares enough to check anyway.

We still lack a properly integrated national strategy for the development of sport. Young people are still missing out on learning physical literacy at the key age/stage of development and we are still missing any target by which success (or failure) of government policy can be judged. But take a look around you, 1 in 3 of your neighbours are playing sport regularly (ahem) so everything in the garden must be rosy.


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, December 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


7 11 2012

Photo: The Guardian

In recent weeks the media has reported numerous stories surrounding Lance Armstrong’s cheating through the taking of performance enhancing drugs. At the same time, even more space has been given to reporting the scandalous tale of Jimmy Savile’s alleged long running abuses of young people.

What no one in the media has done is link the two. No one has looked at the startling similarities in the broken and/or dysfunctional organisational cultures will allowed the cheating and the abuse to go unpunished for so long. And those similarities present a warning to us all.

Most of us would like to think that if we were confronted with a Savile or an Armstrong in our organisation, we would speak up. Most of us are also kidding ourselves. The sorry fact is that most people will not risk a career by being the only person speaking out; will not risk the scorn of others if questioning the actions of a popular colleague. In reality it is only a tiny minority who will speak up regardless.

That presents a serious problem for organisations which like to consider themselves as fair and honest; who do the right thing. If the reality is that most will not risk speaking up and the culture does not encourage the reporting of misdeeds in a non-judgemental way, then in the vast majority of cases they will go unreported.

Photo: The Guardian

Since the news of Jimmy Savile’s alleged years of abusing young people broke numerous people have spoken up; “we all suspected something,” “it was accepted that was how Jimmy was” and “I didn’t want to risk being the only one who said anything” have been regularly repeated by numerous people in various guises. In the Lance Armstrong case, retired cyclists and coaches, team masseurs and managers have spoken out not just about Armstrong but about the culture of cheating that existed in cycling at the time.

Of course, there is another side to most (but not these two) stories. Misunderstanding, misinterpretation and deliberate false accusation must be guarded against. Therefore it is encumbent on the organisation to ensure not only a culture where speaking up is accepted but also where privacy and confidentiality are respected until any case has been properly examined or reported on to the correct authorities.

This involves very deliberate plans which foster a culture where no one is worried that highlighting wrong-doing might adversely affect their career or undermine popularity. It means very deliberate plans which design in a system and structure for reporting wrong-doing which does not expose truth or falsehood before being properly investigated. And, like all good planning, it is regularly ‘stress-tested’ to ensure it works.

Such deliberate planning will not only protect against paedophiles and drug cheats; it opens the door for the addressing of work place/organisational issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, disability discrimination and more. It opens the door to protect against petty theft and fraud. It opens the door to a place where your staff are happy that they can take up issues in a fair, honest and reasonable way in the safe knowledge that they do not risk themselves (unless deliberately false) in any way.

In pointing fingers at the BBC, Stoke Mandeville, the UCI and others, many have taken the risky view that ‘it can’t happen here.’

Can’t it? Is your organisation’s culture assumed or is it known?


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, November 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


14 10 2012

Learning for your business?

The dispute between the Football Association (the FA) and John Terry has received lots of media coverage and comment from both the well-informed and the ignorant alike and it is not my intention in this article to add comment on ground already covered. However, unnoticed by (it appears) everybody in the eagerness to report the headlines were a couple of instances of poor practice from the FA which, if other organisations were made aware of, could provide good examples of where common mistakes could (and should) be fixed.

Inward-Facing or Outward-Facing?

On the eve of the hearing John Terry issued a statement that the FA’s case against him made his position as an England player untenable and announced his retirement from international football.

The FA was, apparently, bemused by this decision. The Independent reported that the FA’s General Secretary Alex Horne was interviewed on 24th September outside Wembley by Sky Sports News and told them; “I don’t see how we’ve made it untenable – they’re two very separate processes. It’s something that happened in a match between QPR and Chelsea ….. That’s a very different process, from my perspective, from our England procedures. They sit in different compartments and I could separate the two in my mind. But unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he could.”

This is an attitude which is, frustratingly for many consumers, becoming all too commonplace in companies in all sectors. It is the difference between being an ‘inward-facing’ or an ‘outward-facing organisation.

What does that mean?

The inward-facing organisation understands its own needs, its own processes and its own structures but takes little time to examine how they appear, or even work, for the external party – for example a customer. As long as everything works for them, for their convenience the world is rosy. If the customer doesn’t understand, well then, it’s the customers fault or problem. We can probably all think of examples of this type of company.

The outward-facing organisation, on the other hand, examines all their processes and structures from the end-users perspective. The customer’s experience is at the forefront of all thinking and, as a result, the company is far more likely to be ‘user-friendly’ – a joy to engage with. Sadly, we can probably think or far fewer examples of this type of organisation.

Re-read Alex Horne’s comments to Sky Sports News and you see a typical inward-facing thinking process. What he effectively says is; “We understand our own structure and where one department ends and another begins. It is clear to me.” What he forgets is that outside the FA’s front door what most see is ….. the FA, not its various departments. I wonder how many times FA employees get frustrated with other organisations that operate in the same inward-facing way. Frequently, I’m willing to wager. I also wonder how frequently they equate their negative experience with other organisations with their own. Very seldom, if ever, seems a fair bet.

And what of your company, what of the organisation you work for? Which are you? How often do you look in the mirror and reflect on whether your processes, your structures are designed in an outward or inward-facing way?

Discriminatory Behaviour.

Interestingly, given the John Terry case had at its roots a serious allegation relating to an area of equality, the second piece of poor practice from the FA related to their ignorance in an area of ….. equality!

It might seem sensible if handing out a ruling on an equality issue to ensure that the way in which that ruling was published was itself not discriminatory.

The ruling (published here) was written from start to finish in a ‘serif’ font – that is one of those fonts with the little lines above and below letters (like Times New Roman or Courier). I’m sure you are thinking; “yes Jim, just like hundreds of documents I read every day,” and you would be right. But while those documents might also discriminate, they are not publishing rulings on a case relating to equality, the FA was and should have been aware.

In publishing the document in this style the FA had given scant consideration to those who are dyslexic, recognised as a disability under the 2010 Equality Act. The British Dyslexia Association’s style guide suggests using a plain, evenly spaced sans-serif font such as Arial and Comic Sans. Alternatives include Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet.

Not uncommon mistakes but now you are aware (as the FA should have been) you can act to make your own communications far more easily read to a significant minority of the population. Not to do so would be inward-facing, putting your own convenience ahead of your customer and potential customer (is changing font really that difficult?). Not to do so would potentially cut the reach of your communications possibly reducing your sales. Now that you know, not to so would also be discriminatory.

In publishing its ruling in the style that it did, the FA broke its own Equality Policy, it potentially discriminated against a group of people defined by the law as disabled. But then, as an inward-facing organisation, they can read their own communication, what does it matter if some others can’t?

What about you and your business? Are you any better? Have you checked?


(Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and colour-blindness are all closely related. Together, an estimated 10% of the population have one or a combination of them).

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, October 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


3 10 2012

A couple of weeks ago the government announced its 2012 Legacy Plan. You might have blinked and missed it because, it seems, only the BBC thought it worthy of reporting. This is the plan that many experts, myself included, have been calling for. So why so little coverage, why so little interest?

Initiativeitis in place of integrated strategy?

Although it is to report the supposed arrival of something I have long called out for, this will not be one of my longer blogs and, depending on your view, neither will it be one of my most interesting.

On 18th September the BBC reported; “London 2012 legacy plan published.” At last, I thought. Over seven years after our then government promised it to the world and over two years after Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson promised us that a national strategy for the development of sport existed (but could not produce it) we were finally going to have something to start seriously delivering on the promises and the sound-bites.

Only we weren’t. Reading below the headline, the ’10 point plan’ the government announced and the BBC reported on wasn’t new (or news) at all. It was a rehash of existing initiatives bundled together in an attempt to give the impression of a new plan.

Maybe I had it wrong. Surely the BBC hadn’t resorted to carrying repeats of old news as well as old TV programmes? But they had.

The reason the announcement was not considered newsworthy by most of the nation’s media is simple. It wasn’t newsworthy. All that the announcement contained was a list of existing initiatives repackaged to look like something new.

Initiativeitis continues apace. The long-promised strategy is still awaited. Nothing has changed.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, October 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal


29 09 2012

Living in a free society we sometimes take things for granted.

The right to share and debate opinions, when and where we holiday, what we do with our leisure time, what we read online, where we work….the list is endless.

Every now and then an opportunity comes along to say thank you to those who gave so much, and continue to give, so we can all enjoy those freedoms we take for granted. The Poppy Run has been just such an opportunity for me and, I hope, for you.

The Poppy Run, now in its second year, is a national series of 5km fun runs aimed at raising funds for and awareness of the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal. As part of my annual commitment to support charity I fill the role of National Director for The Poppy Run.

The concept is simple, volunteer local organisers put on a Poppy Run for their community supported centrally in taking entries, ordering resources, managing health and safety and all of those necessarily elements which can add an unwanted administrative burden on the volunteer. Some Poppy Runs attract 50 participants, others over 200 or more and in the future…..who knows.

People who want to take part in a Poppy Run can enter online or by post. Talent isn’t an issue, The Poppy Run is not a race; there are no prizes, just medals for all finishers whether they run, jog, walk or even crawl the 5km route. If you want to take part but don’t fancy the 5km, you can get involved by volunteering to marshal at one of the events.

All Poppy Runs start at the same time, 11.00 a.m. on Sunday 28th October (the last Sunday in October annually), timed to coincide with the official launch of the annual Poppy Appeal.

This year, in only its second year, there are ten Poppy Runs taking place around the country so there is a good chance there is one near you. We are aiming to have more and more Poppy Runs every year at more and more places around the country.

If you are interested in finding out more about organising your own local Poppy Run in 2013, please drop me an email to If you would like to volunteer to marshal at one of this year’s Poppy Runs contact the office at And if you would like to Run To Give For Those Who Gave™ visit and enter today. And if you really don’t want to leave the comfort of your sofa, you can still support The Poppy Run by ordering your Poppy Run T-shirt from the Poppy Run Facebook shop.

Think about those freedoms we all take for granted; how will you say “thank-you” to those who gave so you can continue to enjoy those freedoms today, tomorrow and long into the future?



Twitter: @poppyrun

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, September 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

Twitter @cowanglobal