‘He is our Pep’ – Christian Malcolm backed to be British Athletics’ Guardiola

Chief executive Joanna Coates has described Christian Malcolm as British Athletics’ Pep Guardiola following his appointment as Olympic Programme head coach.

It was announced on Thursday that former sprinter Malcolm, who competed at four Olympic Games and is a medallist at world, European and Commonwealth level, will start in the role later this year.

The 41-year-old Welshman had been Athletics Australia’s head of performance since January 2019, and worked as British Athletics’ technical lead for sprint relays from March 2015 to December last year.

News of his appointment followed that of Sara Symington as performance director last month, and came on the eve of the British Athletics Championships at Manchester Regional Arena, next to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

Coates was asked on Friday if she hoped Malcolm, in the sense of coming in with a somewhat limited coaching CV and new ideas, will be a figure like Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta or a young Guardiola, the City boss who began his hugely successful spell in charge of Barcelona after a year overseeing their B team.

And she said: “That’s exactly fair. That’s exactly what we’re looking for, and we’re looking for a long-term head coach as well.

“We want someone to fundamentally make a difference in this sport and you’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head there.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola (right) took charge at Barcelona in 2008 (Nick Potts/PA).
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola (right) took charge at Barcelona in 2008 (Nick Potts/PA).

“We will put all the support he needs around him, and don’t forget in Sara, you have 11 years of PD experience, experience of dealing within UK Sport. You have that perfect mix between the two of them.

“So yes, he absolutely is our Pep.”

Coates has spoken previously about wanting greater representation for black and other ethnic minority people in positions of authority, and was asked if it gives her a sense of pride that Malcolm and Paula Dunn (para athletics) are British Athletics’ head coaches.

“It gives me pride because they are great individuals and they’ll do a great job,” Coates said.

“When you make these appointments, you make them because you pick the best people. It is absolutely that.

“Does it give me pride that UK Athletics would have me as a female CEO, has Sara as a female PD, does it give me pride that the organisation looks like it is changing? Yes it does.

“That is what I was paid to come in and do – to make changes. So it gives me pride that I’ve employed the right people.”

Coates stressed Malcolm’s appointment was “not emblematic” and said she had gone for a “young, visionary, innovative” coach.

Malcolm's appointment follows Sara Symington being brought in as performance director last month (PA).
Malcolm's appointment follows Sara Symington being brought in as performance director last month (PA).

She added: “What Christian has which potentially other candidates didn’t have – he might have only had 18 months over in Australia, but he managed to pull together the states to work together.

“That’s something we really need to do. He’s had very difficult conversations with some coaches that were out of the system and brought them back in, which is exactly what we need to do. He has re-engaged with disenfranchised athletes – exactly what we need to do. And he has led a team of people very successfully.

“So it is absolutely not emblematic. I’ve worked too hard in this industry to get to where I’ve got to to not appoint the best people, and he was absolutely brilliant through the interview process. He brings a huge amount of credibility to the sport.”

Coates also said British Athletics’ head of sprints and relay Stephen Maguire, reportedly another candidate for the position Malcolm landed, “has done an amazing job”, that she hoped he would remain in his current role, and that she had no reason to believe he would not be in it come next year.