UK Athletics ready to go foreign again despite coach exodus

Swedish head coach Eriksson to quit for Canada and is latest key figure to exit post-2012

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The Independent Online

UK Athletics will begin the search for a new head coach for the second time since the Olympics after Peter Eriksson announced his decision to step down from the role after just eight months at the helm.

Eriksson was promoted from his role as Paralympic head coach to succeed Dutchman Charles van Commenee as UK Athletics head coach last October, signing a five-year deal to include the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and the World Championships on home soil the following year.

The head coach will remain in post until the end of June, leading the team at the European Team Championships in Gateshead on 22 and 23 June before returning home. He said he had made the shock decision to resign for family reasons – his wife and four children live in Canada and he admitted he had not seen them since Christmas – although there are persistent rumours that he will take the equivalent job in his new homeland.

The departure of 60-year-old Eriksson will be the latest in something of a post-2012 mass exit from UKA. Along with the soon-to-depart Swede, Van Commenee and American Dan Pfaff have gone, along with Canadian Kevin Tyler, the head of coach development, who had been touted as successor to Van Commenee, and Derek Evely, previously head of high performance in Loughborough and also from Canada.

However, the UKA chief executive, Niels De Vos, insisted that, despite the departure of two foreign head coaches in short succession, the body would happily look at non-UK candidates once again. "I think it would be unfair to suggest the situation was inevitable with having someone from overseas," he said of Eriksson's exit. "I think Peter managed that successfully for four years and there's no reason to suggest that wouldn't have happened for another four years, otherwise Peter wouldn't have taken the job."

A potential return for Van Commenee to his old post has emerged as an intriguing possibility, even if it is a little far-fetched after he fell on his sword when his team failed to achieve his own target of eight Olympic medals at London 2012, but De Vos did not rule it out entirely.

"We haven't even started the process [of appointing a successor] yet," De Vos said, when asked about a possible return for the confrontational coach.

After Eriksson steps down the UKA performance director, Neil Black, who described the news as "a big blow", will take over the head coaching duties until the end of the season, which reaches its climax with the World Championships in Moscow in August.

Even though several key coaches have left, the job of head coach at UKA remains one of the more highly sought-after in global athletics despite the reduction in financial support since the Games, and there should be no shortage of candidates. A successor is unlikely to be appointed quickly. De Vos explained: "It's not a short-term appointment process. We know most of the people in the field. But we're not starting the process tomorrow or the next day."

The athletics body wants to keep the new pyramid structure set up in the wake of 2012 with a performance director and two head coaches, one for the Olympic team and one for the Paralympic set-up. Paula Dunn is at the helm of the Paralympic team and is a potential successor to Erikkson, while Black's promotion is unlikely in the long term as it would potentially be at the expense of his role as performance director.

Pfaff, who coached Greg Rutherford to long jump gold at London 2012 and was head of the Lee Valley high-performance centre, would have been a contender but he has moved his coaching operation back to the US.

Eriksson, who guided Britain to third in the athletics medal table at the Paralympics with 11 gold medals and 29 medals in all, made his decision a week ago. He said: "I got my dream job. However, no job is more important than my family and children, and mine need me to be back in Canada. I'm going to start to look for [a new role] as soon as I finish my time here."